Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice meets the Wild, Wild West.
In 1869, females are in short supply in the west while a single man in want of a wife is rare in the east. When lonely Charles Bingley convinces his good friend, Will Darcy, to write a letter offering marriage to Miss Jane Bennet, she likewise convinces her sister, Elizabeth, to pen the reply. Elizabeth is struck by the beauty of the letter and responds by opening her heart to the Oregon wordsmith, who she believes to be Mr. Bingley. It’s love at first letter—for both the couples. Misunderstandings and bad impressions abound as the true identities of the authors are discovered.
In the days following the double wedding, Will and Elizabeth Darcy face challenge after challenge while Mr. and Mrs. Bingley appear to live in wedded bliss. Will Mr. and Mrs. Darcy find their own true love? In this sweet variation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, we will see open disdain shift to a wary friendship and the wary friendship grow to the tenderest of emotions—or will we?
A 346-page western novel by best-selling author, J Dawn King.
Available for purchase at
Wednesday, February 10, 1869 – Baltimore, Maryland
The cowboy pulled his six-shooter from his holster and peeked around the corner of the bank building. Shattering glass along with screams of panic and terror from within sent a stream of sweat trickling down the middle of his back. Marshall Morgan Brown was over an hour away attending the trial of the notorious outlaw Barton Solomon, the scourge of the West, a hired killer who had over sixteen notches on his pistol grip. With no lawman available, the cowboy was on his own. Only he could protect the innocent women and children of Bent Nail Creek.
He sighted down the barrel, the rays from the burning sun bouncing off the cold steel. Holding steady, he zeroed in on the front of the building. The door burst open, and two gunmen carrying bags of money…
“Lizzy!” Jane whispered loud enough to get her sister’s attention. “Uncle Gardiner is here.”
Elizabeth Bennet closed the dime novel and shoved it under the cushion in time to stand and welcome her mother’s only brother back from his long journey at sea.
The Bennet family surrounded their favorite uncle, Mr. Edward Gardiner, to hear about his journey.
“Did you discover lovely vistas and beautiful forests, Uncle?” Elizabeth Bennet had a great admiration for nature. Living in the midst of a city on the Atlantic Seaboard gave her few glimpses of the Earth’s verdant bounty.
She was weary of witnessing the remnants of the war between the states. One of her father’s colleagues referred to the conflict as the Civil War; an oxymoron from her point of view. Reconstruction had begun, yet a sense of hopelessness and loss still blanketed her neighborhood.
Most had lost at least one male family member to the conflict. The prospects for any of the Bennet daughters marrying and having a home of their own were slim to none. The ball they had attended the night before affirmed the sparsity of male partners as she was forced to sit out all but two of the dances—standing up with her eldest sister, Jane, both times.
“The West is like nothing I have ever seen before, Lizzy. The soil is rich, begging to be planted. Tall fir trees are remarkably thick, keeping the sun from reaching the forest floor. Bushes dripping with sweet blackberries hanging from the vines grow so abundantly I soon tired of the fruit. Apple trees, pear trees, and plum trees filled groves so the produce fell to the ground wasted. The grass was green and lush, and it felt like walking on your mother’s thick rug in her sitting room. When our vessel pulled into Portland on the mighty Columbia River, we spied a snow-capped mountain shaped like an upside down funnel overlooking the bustling city. I cannot wait to sell out and return with my family. The Willamette Valley is the future for the Gardiners.”
“And Indians, Uncle?” Mary, the middle sister, had wanted to be a nurse during the war, but her tender age and her father had kept her home. Now, she dreamed of becoming a missionary to the native Americans.
“How about men, Uncle Gardiner? Did you see many men?” At fifteen, Lydia Bennet felt the loss of potential suitors as heavily as her older sisters. Brash and bold, she was determined to marry first. Her next eldest sibling, Catherine, called Kitty, followed her lead. Though Lydia had been the one to mention what was on all of their minds, all five Bennet sisters dared not breathe until their Uncle Gardiner answered.
“Yes, Mary, I saw Indians.” Uncle Gardiner knew his nieces well. “While there, an express rider arrived in Oregon City. In his mailbag, he had an East Coast newspaper with the headline, “30,000 Women in Need of Husbands”. The ensuing uproar caused a stampede as gentlemen and ruffians alike tore at one another to read the information. Therefore, yes, Lydia, there is an abundance of single men who long for the comforts of home and good companionship.”
Even Mrs. Bennet sighed at the thought.
Mr. Bennet did not find his brother-in-law’s comments amusing. “You will not continue to encourage my daughters, Edward. I will not have them running to the Wild West in search of any Tom, Dick, or Harry to be their husbands. With the war over, it will soon be as it was before.”
Elizabeth wanted to shake her head at her father—or shake him by the shoulders. When the Confederate army attacked Fort Sumter in April 1861, Thomas Bennet buried his head in his books and refused to look up until the surrender of General Lee to General Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox Court House in Virginia. Their mother had taken to her room with a four-year case of nerves. Both Jane and Elizabeth had striven to make their meager funds stretch to cover the rising costs of food. Luxuries had been eliminated, to the chagrin of her mother and younger sisters, and fear had settled over most of the household at the many changes they had been required to make. Fewer young men were seeking tutorage in classic literature from her father and their coffers were almost drained dry. In the years since the war was declared over, economic expansion to the West kept the students from their door, so conditions continued to be lean.
She caught Jane shaking her head, her eyes closed against their father’s attitude. His denial had intensified their hardships, and they both were weary of stretching the few coins they possessed to feed and house seven residents. Gone were the cook and housekeeper. Jane cared for the oversight of the living rooms while Elizabeth tended the kitchen chores. For the most part, it was thankless work. Nevertheless, Elizabeth’s nature would not allow her to remain discouraged. She felt she owed it to her sisters to bolster their dreams for a happier future.
“Uncle,” Elizabeth was desperate to hear more, “tell us of the trip itself.”
As she listened to descriptions of the ports-of-call down the coast of the Americas, around the tip of South America, and northward to the Pacific Northwest, Elizabeth felt her perpetual longing stir to make such a journey. The thought of having a good, kind, intelligent man waiting at the end of the months of travel with a home, garden, and friendly neighbors was Jane’s dream. As for Elizabeth, she wanted adventure—even if it meant she would never marry. But travel took money, something which was always in short supply in the Bennet household.
Later that night, after the family had retired, she was unsurprised to hear Jane’s soft knock on her door.
“What did Uncle say?” Elizabeth had been puzzled when Edward Gardiner had met in private with her eldest sister. Rarely had she been excluded from their conversations.
Jane thrust a letter into Elizabeth’s unsuspecting hands. “Read this.” Then she sat on the edge of the bed to await her sister’s opinion—something Elizabeth typically shared freely.
The envelope was, surprisingly, in almost untouched condition, showing Uncle Gardiner’s care of the letter. The contents, therefore, had to contain either sensitive or life-changing information.
September 4, 1868
Oregon City, Oregon
Dear Miss Bennet,
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Charles Archibald Bingley. I am nearing twenty-three years of age and the owner of a 640-acre property outside of Oregon City. My parents moved my two sisters and myself to the Pacific coastal region in 1867, only to suffer an accident at sea. Within a month, my siblings and I relocated to the Willamette Valley. With the help of a trusted friend, I built a large home and have enough income from my land to support a family. My eldest sister, Louisa, is recently married to Mr. Gilbert Hurst. Caroline, who is just turned nineteen, attends a school for ladies in Boston and is in her final year. She plans to return to Netherfield in the fall of 1870.
Your uncle described you as beautiful, kind, and caring. These are the qualities I am hoping to find in a wife. My friends describe me as amiable. I spent enough time in Mr. Gardiner’s company for him to give you an accurate portrayal as to whether or not this is the truth.
Life in this part of the country is quiet if you fail to listen to the calls of the natural world. In the spring, the air is filled with the noise of birds as they seek food for their young. From red robins plucking at the ground for a fat worm to the cry of magnificent eagles, the variety is astounding. In the autumn, bull elk bugle to call their mates and bears grunt as they fill up on the last of the summer’s crop of insects and berries.
I believe the beauty of our part of the world is best described by a British poet.
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”
Only this morning I walked outside my home to find a doe with twin fawns. The little ones still had some of their spots. They played by the honeysuckle arbor as their mother grazed on the newly cut grass. Serenity and joy filled me, as well as longing to share the moment with someone.
Have you ever hoped to travel outside of Maryland? Would you, or could you, imagine yourself married to a man so far from the rest of your family?
My hope is that you respond soon so I know whether I have hope.
Charles A. Bingley
Elizabeth’s eyes moved over the paper a second time and then a third. “Lord Byron,” she whispered to herself. How many modern men were familiar with Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage? Yet, he had quoted one of her favorite verses of the lengthy poem. Each word fed her soul. Mr. Bingley was a wordsmith, a man who appreciated a turn of phrase—the solace of joining adjectives and nouns—until a human heart was touched.
She looked at Jane, who sat calmly at her side. Elizabeth could not fail to see the dream lingering in her sister’s eyes. Though they did not know of any females of their acquaintance who had become mail-order brides, the practice had been going on for a decade or more; being a drastic solution to an otherwise unsolvable problem. “Will you reply?” She knew before asking what her sister’s answer would be.
Jane’s chin dropped to her chest as a blush covered her cheeks. “I would love to meet Mr. Bingley.” Then she looked directly at her sister. “But I need you to write him, Lizzy, as I could never match his elegant hand. You are much more skilled with words than I am. You even knew whom he quoted, while I did not.” Jane grabbed Elizabeth’s hands. “Please, say you’ll do it for me. Please?”
Without hesitation Elizabeth replied, “Of course I will. Your goodness needs rewarded, sister dear. I’ll do all within my power to help you along.”
Jane giggled. “Oh, Lizzy. To think that I might have a home of my own. The land sounds beautiful, and I would love to be married to an amiable man.”
“Who is handsome.”
Jane’s giggles grew louder.
They both laughed until their father yelled through the walls for silence.
“Does Papa know about the letter?”
Although Jane was twenty-two years of age, she was still under her father’s authority because she lived in his household. As unwilling as their male parent was for change, this might be something they would have to keep from him until Jane had decided whether or not to travel to Oregon with their uncle and his family later in the year.
“He does not.”
“What did Uncle say about Mr. Bingley?”
The blush returned until Jane’s cheeks were as red as Elizabeth had ever seen them. “Uncle described him as six feet tall, lean of build, with strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes, and a big smile. He claimed Mr. Bingley is sociable, pleasant, and eager to learn. His home is, as the letter says, newly constructed, overlooking the river.”
“You have always preferred fair coloring, so he is sounding like the ideal man for you.” Elizabeth slapped her hand over her mouth as her laughter threatened to bubble over. She had not seen such happiness on her sister’s face since before the war.
“Perhaps the friend he mentions who helped him establish his home is tall, dark, and handsome. He would be your ideal man.” Then it was Jane’s turn to muffle her mirth.
“He is probably short, round, and balding with no comprehension of how he would handle a woman like me as a wife—if he is not already wed.”
“Oh, Lizzy. I could not move so far away without you.” Both sisters quieted at the thought. The two of them were the best of friends. To be separated by such a distance was intolerable.
“Then I’ll move with you to Oregon and be aunt to your many children. I will teach them to darn socks poorly and play the piano with robust enthusiasm until we are all driven outside to listen to the sounds of nature found at the Bingley family home.”
“Why did you have to write about the fawns? What if Miss Bennet doesn’t like baby animals?”
“Bingley, would you want a wife who did not?” Fitzwilliam Darcy chuckled to himself as he watched his closest friend wear a path in Darcy’s carpeting. At this rate, the floor covering would not last the year. The rug had survived its trip from the eastern seaboard when their family left Boston in 1830. He had not yet been born when his father traveled years later to attend university and obtain a wife whom he packed up and moved back to Oregon to take advantage of the Donation Land Claim Act. They arrived in Oregon to settle on his father’s 640 acres of prime forestland bordering the Willamette River. In the years after he was born, his father and mother had purchased additional property until he was surrounded by four square miles of Darcy land.
“And poetry? Darcy! She will think I have mislead her to think me more educated than I am.” Bingley raked his hands through his hair as he walked, making the top stand up in a spectacular disarray.
“You are educated.” Darcy had met the Bingley siblings soon after they had arrived at Oregon City. Within a week, Bingley’s eldest sister had married the owner of the local livery and stable. Since then, they had sold their business and moved to Portland so Mrs. Hurst could enjoy the benefits of city life. After a month spent pouting at the rustic conditions and attempting to bind her seventeen-year-old self to the wealthiest single man in the area, Will Darcy, Caroline had been returned to the East Coast to polish her education and, as Darcy hoped, dispose of her bold ways.
“Yes, but I didn’t pay that close of attention in school.” Charles Bingley’s father had sent him to two years at the College of New Jersey. The elder Mr. Bingley felt this was enough learning for a landowner. He pulled his son out of university to bring the family west.
“Bingley, I wrote it in the same manner I write to my sister, Georgiana. The letter will be fine.”
“But, you aren’t wanting to marry your sister.” Bingley shuddered. A horrified expression covered his face. “That came out wrong!”
Darcy rolled his eyes.
Bingley continued, “I want Miss Bennet to want to meet me as a potential husband. I don’t want her to be disappointed when and if she gets here by the man I truly am.”
“She won’t be. You’re a fine man.” Darcy took a sip of the strong black coffee—his typical morning beverage. “Maybe next time you should write your own letter.”
“I can’t.” Bingley finally sat opposite him in the tall leather chair. “My penmanship is so bad, she would immediately know someone else wrote the first letter. You’ll have to continue the correspondence until I can get her to say “yes” to my proposal.”
“I told you this wasn’t a good plan.” Darcy well remembered Bingley pleading with him to pen the letter.
Again, Charles ran his hand through his hair, taming the top part a bit.
“There is too much to lose. When Mr. Gardiner told us he was going to move his family out to the Goulding ranch, along with his eldest niece, I felt this was my best chance of getting ahead of the crowd. If she is as lovely as he claims, the men will come from a hundred miles around to court her. I could not take a chance of not attaching her to me before she left Baltimore. I had to have your help.”
“You do?” Bingley looked closer at this friend. “I am surprised you did not want her for yourself. You don’t, do you?”
Darcy could hear the concern in his voice and was, therefore, quick to reassure him.
“No, I’m not necessarily looking for a wife at this time. Don’t worry, Miss Bennet is all yours.”
Relief flooded Bingley’s face.
“The real test, Charles, will be when she writes back. Through her words you’ll know if she has any intelligence. Imagine the horror of being stuck with a woman who has a pretty face and an empty head.”
While Darcy shuddered, Bingley smiled. “I wouldn’t mind at all.”
Elizabeth rested the end of her pencil on her chin. She had re-read Mr. Bingley’s letter so many times, it was indelibly imprinted in her memory. She felt the weight of replying in a manner consistent with Jane’s personality. However, each sentence describing the young man and his home resounded in her heart until she found herself pouring her own emotions onto the pages.
February 11, 1869
Dear Mr. Bingley,
With pleasure I received your letter of September 4, 1868. Our uncle Gardiner delivered it to my hand only yesterday. Please be reassured of his safe arrival to our home.
Our family listened with delight to the account of his travels. I cannot imagine the adventure of sailing from one ocean to another, though my dreams are to one day do that very thing. Combined with the descriptions of your part of the country, I am intrigued to learn more.
My father is a tutor of classic literature, so I easily recognized Lord Byron’s words. I would share with you a favorite portion of a story on the same theme, which describe my desires and goals, and wonder if you know its source.
“A quiet, secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbor—such is my idea of happiness.”
We live a simple life, sir. Due to circumstances far beyond our control, my next younger sister, Elizabeth, and I have managed our household since the beginning of the war. My heart aches for the loss of your parents. Though ours were traumatized by the news of battles and the death of the sons of many of their peers, they are still present with us.
My uncle could not clearly recall the details he shared with you about myself and my family. Since you introduced me to your sisters, I will do the same. I recently turned twenty-two and have four younger sisters. Elizabeth, whom we call Lizzy, is twenty. Mary, the middle sister, is nineteen and has a deeply-embedded passion for spiritual edification. Catherine and Lydia are the youngest at seventeen and fifteen respectively. Lydia has a zest for life, and Kitty follows her wherever she goes. All of us have fair hair and blue eyes apart from Lizzy.
Mr. Bingley, my uncle has invited me to travel with him and his wife to Oregon later in the year to winter with them at their new home. He has said it is in fairly close proximity to your own property of Netherfield Ranch. I would be pleased to accept an introduction. In the meantime, my hope is that you choose to write again as I found much enjoyment in your letter.
Miss Jane Bennet
Four weeks later, Bingley burst through the door of Darcy’s home. Pemberley had a housekeeper and a foreman to see to the outside chores. Bingley had managed to evade them both.
“She wrote.” He waved a letter at his friend. “You have to write her back.”
Darcy had not had the chance to rise from his chair behind his desk, so held out his hand to receive the letter. His cursory glance revealed fine, even handwriting. By the time he reached the second paragraph, his curiosity at this young woman was piqued. She yearned for adventure? When she quoted Family Happiness by Leo Tolstoy a few sentences later, he realized his own heart was in danger. Horror at the thought had him carefully placing the letter on the surface of his desk. This document had not been intended for him. He was surprised at the disappointment filling his heart.
Breathing in deeply, he picked up the paper and finished the letter. Before he could speak, Bingley interrupted his thoughts.
“She is an angel, is she not?” Bingley barely paused. “I’m determined, Darcy. Miss Jane Bennet will be Mrs. Bingley before she has spent a week on Oregon soil. I can’t wait. I mean, I’ll have to wait, won’t I, though I don’t want to.”
Bingley leaned over the top of the desk until he could read Miss Bennet’s letter upside down. “You’ll write her right away, won’t you? Please, Darcy. Don’t delay. I’m all anticipation of hearing from her again.”
Darcy blew out the breath he had been holding. When had his life gotten so hard?
Two months later – Oregon City, Oregon
“I believe she is practically perfect.” Charles Bingley handed the well-traveled letter over to his closest friend. They had checked for mail as soon as they arrived at the post office, and the latest note, the third response, had been waiting for Bingley.
Fitzwilliam Darcy quickly scanned the letter and then leaned back on the front porch railing to read it a second time. The words danced off the page straight into his heart. Miss Jane Bennet was both articulate and intelligent. Her choice of expressions and use of a precise script painted her as a woman Darcy longed to know. However, it was to his friend she had written. The letter was not his. “No, Bingley,” he thought to himself. “I believe she is not practically perfect. She is perfect.”