Readers have been starting to ask me if I’m still writing. The answer is YES. I’m overdue for publishing a book, since I tend to publish about one a year, and my last one, Conceit & Concealment, came out in June 2017. Never fear, though – I’ll have TWO books coming soon!
Last winter I got stuck in how to handle a plot issue in the book I was writing, a Pride & Prejudice crossover with Shakespearean fantasy. I put it on the back burner until my muse saw fit to hand me the answer and moved ahead to the next book, a Pride & Prejudice variation set primarily in Scotland. Since then I’ve been going back and forth between them. The fantasy book needs three new scenes to be done, and it’s twice the length of my average book, weighing in at a hefty 165,000 words. The Scotland book is about 80% done, so the end is in sight.
Here’s a taste of the Scotland book to whet your appetite. It begins with Darcy and Bingley returning to Netherfield, but in this variation, Elizabeth did not go to Pemberley, so Darcy hasn’t seen her since Hunsford. This isn’t a final draft, but I hope you’ll enjoy it.
From Chapter 1
“I simply do not understand it!” cried Bingley. “Why has everyone in Meryton taken such a dislike to me? They were all happy enough to attend my ball here last year.”
The answer was obvious enough to Darcy. “Do you suppose they might believe you toyed with Miss Bennet’s affections?”
“I never made her any promises! Besides, even if they think I abandoned her, why would anyone but the Bennets shun me?”
Darcy had to admit it was surprising, especially given how popular Bingley had been before, but Elizabeth had told him on that terrible night last spring how her sister had suffered and been exposed to derision for her disappointed hopes. Perhaps it had been much worse than he had imagined. He stiffened. Could Jane Bennet have taken drastic action to end her suffering? The locals might blame Bingley for that, although not as much as Darcy would blame himself. The very idea made him feel ill. “Sometimes people in these country neighborhoods can be very loyal to one of their own.”
Bingley paced across the room. “But it is all of them. No one has called on me except Sir William Lucas, and even he was not as affable as usual. Our only invitation was to dine at the Gouldings, and that was only because they could not avoid asking us after we met in town when they were discussing it. Mr. Robinson, the Longs, the Harringtons, and the Garfords were not at home when we called on them, and this is the third time Bennets were not at home!”
“It could be mere coincidence.” He doubted it, though. “Perhaps you should try calling on Sir William. He should receive you, and you could ask him about it.”
“Will you come with me?”
Darcy shook his head. “Your chances will be better if you go on your own. They never liked me here, although they were always polite about it.” And if he had to hear Bingley’s chatter through yet another outing, he might go mad.
Bingley tugged at his cuffs. “I suppose it is worth a try.”
Something had to be done. This return to Netherfield was supposed to resolve Darcy’s doubts one way or another. Either Elizabeth had decided to forgive him after reading the letter he had written her after she refused his miserable excuse for a proposal of marriage, or she had not. Even if she still disliked him, she would still be polite to him, and he would be able to be in the same room with her. That might be enough to give him a reprieve from the gnawing emptiness he had felt inside ever since that night in Hunsford. Returning to London had not given him any relief, nor had going to Pemberley with Georgiana and the Bingleys. This return to Netherfield was his last hope.
But it was a rapidly fading hope. If Elizabeth had forgiven him, he would not have been turned away at the door of Longbourn. The first two times the Bennets might have truly been out, but today he had seen Mrs. Bennet’s face at one of the windows.
Tomorrow he would put his final plan into effect. He knew where Elizabeth’s favorite walks were, and he would haunt them until he found her. Then he would ask her directly about what he had said in his letter. Even if the answer was that she still hated him, it would be better than not knowing. He could put this chapter of his life behind him and try to find something, anything that could give him a purpose and distract him from the past.
Two hours later, Bingley strode into the billiard room and slammed the door behind him, his eyes flashing with anger. “How could you?” he demanded.
This was quite unlike the friend Darcy had known for years. Had Bingley caught whatever disease had affected the minds of the people of Meryton? “How could I do what?” he asked cautiously.
“You know perfectly well! I saw Jane Bennet today walking to town and stopped to talk to her. She tried to avoid me, even begged me to leave her for her reputation’s sake, but I insisted she tell me what was the matter. Now do you know what I am talking about?”
“I have not the least idea.” His breath caught in his throat. Jane Bennet always thought the best of everyone. What could she hold against him?
Bingley clenched his fists. “Do you deny that you saw Miss Elizabeth Bennet in Kent, or that you met with her alone on several occasions?”
Darcy stiffened. “I told you I had seen her. We met several times while walking in the park, but otherwise we were always in company.”
“What about the night when Mr. and Mrs. Collins were dining with Lady Catherine and you knew Miss Elizabeth was home alone? Do you deny leaving the dinner and going to see her?”
Darcy’s chest tightened. Elizabeth had told her family about that? Then they must also know why he had done so, and he could not imagine why they would object. “I admit it freely.”
“And that no one saw you leave, and the next morning, before the household was awake, you were seen with her and you gave her a letter?”
Oh, no. “I gave her a letter, but I was only at the parsonage for a brief time, whether or not anyone saw me leave.”
“Unfortunately, Miss Elizabeth can offer no proof of that, as she went to bed before Mr. and Mrs. Collins returned, having given strict orders not be disturbed. But that does not matter. You went late at night for an assignation with a young lady whom we all know you admired. Surely you do not expect me to believe your purpose was innocent!” Perspiration began to appear on Bingley’s brow.
“I went there to talk to her, nothing more,” said Darcy grimly. “And that is all I did.”
“You expect me to believe that you left your aunt’s dinner party solely to talk to her? Was there a reason you could not wait to speak to her the next day?”
“I wanted to speak to her privately,” Darcy said through gritted teeth. “I asked her to marry me.” It was the last thing he wanted to admit, but how else could he explain his behavior? It looked so damning the way Bingley described it. “She refused me, and I left. She accused me of something that was not true, and I wanted her to know the truth. I wrote a letter of explanation, and the next morning I waited where I knew she would go. It contained nothing beyond a defense of my character.”
With a harsh bark of laughter, Bingley said, “And you expect me to believe that? Me? After all the effort you went to in order to keep me from proposing to Jane Bennet? All the arguments about how far beneath me she was? Miss Elizabeth was even farther beneath you. You would never have considered marrying her.”
This was a disaster. “Everything you say is true, and I should not have proposed to her, but I did.”
“How do you account, then, for the fact that Miss Elizabeth accepted ruination without any mention of your proposal or asking you to redeem her reputation? How do you explain that?” Bingley’s nostrils flared.
Because Elizabeth despised him and would rather be ruined than to marry him. Bile rose in his throat. “I cannot explain her actions beyond that she did not wish to marry me.”
“I do not believe you. And you used me, convinced me to return here in the hope of resuming your liaison with her, and, fool that I am, I agreed! If anyone had needed more proof, your presence here provides it.”
His chest ached. “I suggested you come here because Miss Elizabeth had told me I was wrong about her sister not caring for you. I wanted you to have another chance. And yes, I hoped to see if my letter had improved Miss Elizabeth’s opinion of me, but that was all.”
Bingley slapped his palm against the top rail of the billiard table. “You admit, then, that you hid your motives for coming here, and still you expect me to believe that you did nothing improper?”
“Bingley, on my honor as a gentleman, I have told you the truth.” But he could not deny he had hidden his motivation.
Bingley stared at him with angry, bewildered eyes. “You ruined her, and with her, you ruined the woman I love.”
“I had no intention of harming anyone, least of all Miss Elizabeth. I never touched her.” The words sounded hollow. Even if he had done nothing improper, Elizabeth and her family were suffering because of him.
Bingley’s mouth twisted. “You expect me to believe that when Miss Elizabeth quietly accepted her fate, knowing it would disgrace her sisters as well? I have seen the results here with my own eyes. Now get out of my house. I never wish to lay eyes on you again.”
“Bingley…” But there was no point. “I will leave, but this is not over.”
“A room at the inn?” Smithers repeated.
Darcy was too shaken by Bingley’s news even to feel annoyed at this further evidence of his new valet’s lack of respect. “Yes, I want a room at the inn in Ware for tonight. Bring only what I will need for two days. Pack everything else and send it to Darcy House.”
“Of course in London. That is where Darcy House is. I will meet you later at the inn.” Devil take it. This was a terrible time to have a half-trained valet. If his old valet had still been with him, Darcy could have had him ask about Elizabeth among the Netherfield servants. He would have to do without that knowledge now.
He strode out of the room and down the stairs, averting his eyes as he passed the ballroom where he had danced with Elizabeth. It must be a painful memory for her now. His interest in her had ruined her reputation and her life.
At the front door he took his hat and gloves from the butler. “Kindly inform Mr. Bingley I have left. My valet is packing my trunks and will send them off later.” He pulled his gloves on so forcefully that he felt a seam give way.
“Very good, sir.” The butler sounded emotionless as he held the door open.
Bingley stood in the doorway to the dining room watching him with no sign of softening on his face.
Darcy did not acknowledge him. Instead he strode towards the stable without looking back. Never before had a friend challenged his word of honor. That Bingley, perhaps the closest of his friends, should do so left him with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, but he could deal with Bingley after the matter of Elizabeth was settled.
He mounted and rode towards Longbourn, this time noticing as he passed through Meryton how many acquaintances averted their eyes from him. It had no doubt been happening since his arrival, but he had not paid attention since he had no desire to speak to them. Now it was clear he was being cut. How dare they sit in judgment on him when he was blameless, or close enough to make no difference?
Elizabeth had done this. By choosing to leave rather than to contest the gossip, she destroyed his good name. Not that the local gentry had ever liked him, but this was worse. Would word of his alleged crimes eventually reach the ton in London? It probably did not matter. Trying to seduce young ladies was expected behavior for gentlemen of the ton, but the people of Meryton were loyal to Elizabeth.
The lane to Longbourn looked just as it had that morning when he and Bingley had attempted to call on the Bennets, except now he knew that everyone in the house must despise him. A sour taste puckered his mouth as he knocked on the door. This was not going to be pleasant interview.
A doddering servant answered the door. Darcy thrust his card into the man’s hand. “I wish to see Mr. Bennet.”
The manservant held the card by his fingertips as if it were covered with some distasteful substance. “I will see if he is at home.” Instead of inviting Darcy to sit in the hall, he closed the door in Darcy’s face, leaving him to cool his heels on the doorstep. Clearly he was not welcome at Longbourn.
The old servant opened the door again. “Mr. Bennet is not at home.”
Darcy placed his booted foot in the door before he could close it. “Be so kind as to inquire when Mr. Bennet will be at home,” he said evenly.
The servant came back more quickly this time. “I have been told to inform you that no one in this house will ever be at home for you.” His voice quavered as he spoke through the opening above Darcy’s foot.
Enough was enough. He was trying to help them, dammit. “Stand out of my way, old man. I have no desire to hurt you.” To hurt Elizabeth’s father, yes, but not an innocent servant.
Fortunately, the man obeyed, scurrying backwards until he could push past him. Darcy paused in the entrance hall, trying to remember the layout. The drawing room was to the right. He remembered that. Mr. Bennet’s library had been straight ahead, had it not? He would find it somehow. His feet must have remembered the way, since the first door he chose was the correct one.
Mr. Bennet looked up at him. “Get out of my house.”
Darcy reminded himself to be patient. The man had reason to distrust him, after all. “I apologize for forcing my way in, but we cannot find a resolution to this matter if I am unable to speak to you.”
“There is no possible resolution,” Mr. Bennet said coldly. “Good day, Mr. Darcy.
Patience. “I will leave after we have discussed the matter. I assume you would prefer to do so privately rather than having me shout my business so the entire house can hear. I have only just learned about what happened to Miss Elizabeth, and I am here to make matters right by offering to marry her.”
“No. You have offered, and I have declined. Good day.”
What was wrong with the man? “This is ridiculous. As I imagine your daughter has told you, I never touched her, nor did anything improper beyond giving her a letter, and even that can be explained. The rest is nothing but conjecture and gossip. Miss Elizabeth has had to leave her family and friends, and your other daughters are in disgrace and will be unlikely to be able to find husbands, but all of this can be repaired by Miss Elizabeth marrying me.”
The cords stood out in Mr. Bennet’s neck. “Lizzy does not wish to marry you, and she will do so only over my dead body, and I mean that quite literally. Is that clear enough for you?”
“I do not believe you. I will grant you that she dislikes me, but she is neither cruel nor unreasonable, and I refuse to believe she would choose for her sisters to suffer rather than even to try to resolve the issue.”
Mr. Bennet curled his upper lip. “Lizzy has made her sentiments on this matter clear to me. She does not wish to marry you under any circumstances.”
Darcy’s temper was slipping. “Since you will not see reason, I will address myself directly to Miss Elizabeth. Where is she?”
Mr. Bennet smiled in cold triumph. “She is out of your reach. I am the only person who knows where she is, and I will not tell you. Not today, not ever.”
“Why? I have no intention of harming her.”
“You have already harmed her quite enough. She does not want you to find her, and that is all the reason I need.”
The man was irrational. There was no other way to explain it. “You are the one who is harming Miss Elizabeth and your entire family with that attitude,” Darcy said icily. “I can only hope you will come to your senses. Pray send me word when you do.” Before he said anything worse, Darcy stalked out of the library, half blind with rage, and nearly ran into Jane Bennet, who clearly been drawn there by the raised voices. Mrs. Bennet stood a few feet behind her, fanning herself frantically.
He bowed. “Miss Bennet, I have just been speaking to your father. He has categorically refused my offer to marry Miss Elizabeth, and will not even permit me to speak to her. Perhaps you might have better fortune at making him see reason.”
Mrs. Bennet wailed, “Oh, Mr. Bennet! How could you?”
Darcy hoped she would make her husband’s life a misery. Heaven help him, if he had to rely on Mrs. Bennet to help him! He added more gently, “Miss Bennet, should he change his mind, I hope I may rely on you to send word to me.”
Jane Bennet nodded dumbly, her mouth hanging open with shock.
“I thank you.” As the old servant was still cowering by the door, Darcy let himself out.
Seething, he rode to the end of the lane where it met the main road. The last thing he wanted to do was to go to an uncomfortable inn for the night. When he had made the plan, he had assumed Mr. Bennet would accept his proposal and they would need to meet further to discuss the settlement. Now there was no reason to stay. He would go back to London tonight, where he could nurse his wounds in privacy and decide what to do next.
What do you think? Any guesses why Mr. Bennet is behaving out of character? Eventually I’ll be posting more chapters, so stay tuned! And here’s a visual hint to what Elizabeth is up to in the meantime.