Scotland? How did Scotland get into Pride & Prejudice? Well, my books are usually inspired by a vivid idea for an emotionally intense scene. My next book is the exception. It started with a setting, or rather an anti-setting. You’ve heard of invasive species. I’ve been having problems with invasive characters! In Mr. Darcy’s Journey, I added some original characters from the Fitzwilliam family: Darcy’s cousin Lady Frederica and a particular version of Lord and Lady Matlock. Then they wiggled their way into Conceit & Concealment. By the time I wrote Mr. Darcy’s Enchantment, they had decided they were part of P&P canon, especially Lady Frederica, and they’re very stubborn! But I’m stubborn, too, so when I planned my next book, I was determined to keep the Fitzwilliams out of it. But how? They live in London and Derbyshire, and they visit Rosings, so they could show up unexpectedly in the usual P&P places. Fine, says I. I decided to set the new book in Scotland where there aren’t any Fitzwilliams.
But first I had to get Darcy and Elizabeth to Scotland. It was a long, hard, expensive journey from London, not something they’d undertake on a whim. They wouldn’t go together, and I didn’t want to rely on coincidence. The obvious choice was to have Darcy follow Elizabeth there, and that’s when the story really took life for me. The first chapter, with that part of the story, is posted here.
Darcy finds Elizabeth living in Edinburgh, but she slips through his fingers by going to the Highlands. Alone. Secretly. In January, which, in case you were wondering, isn’t the best time to visit the Highlands unless you really enjoy cold and dark. But to give you a little taste, here’s an excerpt Elizabeth’s puzzling first impressions of the Highlands. This scene will be somewhat different in the final version because of an added character, but that part’s not ready to go yet.
“There it is,” called the coachman. “Inverardran House.”
Elizabeth looked in the direction he pointed. A whitewashed keep, more a small castle than a modern house, stood in the distance half way up a hill. Under the gray sky, it seemed something less than welcoming, but anything with a roof that allowed her to stop traveling sounded like heaven. Mr. Darcy had said at Hunsford that fifty miles of good road was a short distance. She now knew that ten miles of bad road in winter was a very long, painful, bone-rattling distance indeed.
They crossed the river on an old stone bridge and drove along an even less traveled track. Small enclosures separated by dry stone walls appeared on either side of the track. Vegetable gardens, by the look of the tilled soil, now barren in winter. A cluster of stone cottages stood on the heath above them. Tenant farmers, perhaps. She had seen fewer cottages or farmers than she had expected on this journey, only a sad string of common folk carrying their few belongings down the road. Gypsies, most likely. From what she had seen, the Highlands were populated primarily by sheep.
The lane to the house was winding and steep, but the view across the river to the mountains was impressive. Elizabeth had been prepared for the house to be ill maintained since no one had been in residence for years, but the ivy was trimmed back neatly and the shrubs had been shaped. No fallen leaves spotted the frost-covered lawn. Was all this effort a show for her benefit?
The driver pulled up in front of the steps and helped Elizabeth out. Two stableboys ran up immediately to hold the horses. The driver raised the door knocker and let it fall.
A man, presumably the butler, opened the door. “Miss Merton, welcome to Inverardran House.” He held the door wide open, revealing two lines of servants awaiting her inspection, just as if she were the mistress of a great English house. My, there were so many of them! More than at Longbourn certainly, but perhaps the housekeeper had hired extra help on learning that Elizabeth would be coming. A few maids still hurried to take their places.
“Miss Merton, may I present the housekeeper, Mrs. MacLaren?”
Elizabeth smiled at the housekeeper apologetically. “I am sorry to be such trouble. I told my aunt I needed nothing special here, just a few rooms cleared of holland covers.”
“Inverardran House is always ready for the family to visit,” said the housekeeper with some pride. “I trust you will find everything satisfactory.”
“You are very kind, Mrs. MacLaren.”
The housekeeper curtsied. “Miss Merton, may I present the butler of Inverardran House, Mr. MacLaren? And this is our steward, Mr. MacLaren.”
Taken aback, Elizabeth asked, “How do I tell you which Mr. MacLaren I wish to speak to?”
“MacLaren the butler or MacLaren the steward will do. Almost everyone in the glen is a MacLaren. We have a few Campbells and a Stewart or two, but mostly MacLarens. May I present the upstairs maids, Margaret, Jean, and Janet? All MacLarens, of course.” She continued down the line.
Three upstairs maids in a house no one lived in? Six footmen? No doubt there were dozens of gardeners keeping that lawn free of leaves. This would be costing her aunt a fortune. The steward and housekeeper must be employing every person in their entire families. But Elizabeth smiled at each servant, even the ones who looked at her anxiously, before being taken to a scrupulously clean bedroom with a large four-poster bed. A coal fire burned in an absolutely clean fireplace. Had someone scrubbed it out before lighting it?
“This will do nicely,” Elizabeth told the housekeeper.
Elizabeth’s maid from Edinburgh had come with her to Inverardran, but Elizabeth had told her to take the first morning off to recover from the journey. The poor girl had been sick to her stomach most of the trip.
In her place, Margaret, one of the parlor maids, helped her into a warm woolen day dress. Elizabeth peered out the window as Margaret tidied the bed.
Elizabeth frowned. “Margaret, it is the dead of winter and nothing is growing. Why are there four gardeners working in the garden?” Being overstaffed was one thing, but this was ridiculous.
Margaret came and peeked out the window. “Clearing the paths, miss.” Her voice trembled.
“Surely that could wait until spring.” Elizabeth watched the maid closely.
The girl glanced away and began to tie back the bed curtains. “The head gardener might be able to tell you. He is a gruff old fellow, my uncle’s wife’s father. My uncle wanted to be a gardener, but he would not take him, so my uncle become a tanner. Tanning makes his clothes stink, and my mother will not let him in the house until after he has washed thoroughly, but his tanned sheepskin is beautiful, better than anything from Glasgow.”
The maid had not been babbling about inconsequential things until Elizabeth started asking questions. Was it an attempt to distract her from asking about the gardeners? “How are you at dressing hair?”
Margaret’s eyes widened in alarm. “Och, I am no lady’s maid, but I will do my best, if you wish.”
Why was the girl so nervous? “I can manage it myself. After all, I do not need to look particularly elegant here, do I?”
“You will always look elegant, miss.” But the maid’s face was wan.
Perhaps she should try being more forthcoming. “I had an odd experience yesterday while traveling here. A man carrying a pistol stopped the carriage. I think he was a highwayman, but when the coachman told him who I was, he left us alone.”
“That was probably Auld Jack. He is a highwayman, but he does not rob other Scots, only the English.” She sounded more confident on this subject.
“He dislikes the English? Yet he spared me, and I am English.”
The frightened deer look was back in her eyes. “You belong to Inverardran, so you are not really English,” she said tentatively.
Elizabeth gave up.
“Could you tell me where breakfast is served?” Elizabeth asked one of them.
“In the dining room, miss.” He held open a large door for her. “Through here, if you please.”
She could not decide if they were trying to be as stoic as English servants in great houses or whether they were as uncomfortable with her as Margaret had been, but she nodded graciously as she passed them. The table was set for one.
Mrs. MacLaren the housekeeper brought in the tray of breakfast foods herself. “The cook tried to guess what you might like, Miss Merton. We know the English dinna care for some of our Scottish food, so she tried to avoid those. I hope you will tell us what you would like in the future.”
“Thank you, Mrs. MacLaren.” Elizabeth was tempted to say she would like not to be treated like a foreign invader, but that cause seemed hopeless. “It looks delicious.”
She helped herself from the tray, remembering her last breakfast in Edinburgh, laughing with her aunt and Mr. Fitzpatrick. Going somewhere completely isolated had sounded perfect when her aunt mentioned it, but she had not thought of eating every meal alone, surrounded by staff who thought she was one of the enemy. The area was so sparsely populated that she doubted she had many neighbors, and even if she did, they would be unlikely to welcome an Englishwoman as a friend. This would be a lonely stay. If only she could return to Edinburgh!
Then there was the business of over-staffing the house. She ought at least to determine the truth of the matter so she could tell her aunt about it. That would give her something to do, at least.
But she did not know what to do about any of it. When she had awoken this morning in the dark, unfamiliar bedroom, she decided that if her aunt left her this estate, she would sell it and look for something closer to Edinburgh. She could not imagine coming all this distance to a dreary place that meant nothing to her.
Outside the window the sun was breaking through the clouds. That was what she needed, a long ramble outside after two days of traveling, and it would take her away from all the English-hating staff. She pushed away the remains of her breakfast.
“Is aught the matter? May I fetch you something else?” asked the housekeeper.
“No, everything is perfect. I am merely restless and wish to go walking. Perhaps you can recommend a footpath.”
“Walking in this cold? I hope you have warm clothes. One of the footmen can go with you.”
“There is no need. I like to walk alone.”
The housekeeper looked dubious. “Very well, if that is what you wish. Will you go now?”
“As soon as I have changed into my boots,” said Elizabeth.
“I will await you here, then, and I can show you the path.”
When Elizabeth came down in her boots, the butler held out her pelisse and cloak. She hung her muff around her neck and tied on her winter bonnet.
The housekeeper held up a green and blue plaid muffler. “You should wear this, Miss Merton. Folks here can be suspicious of strangers, and this will tell them you are a MacLaren.”
Should she point out she was not, in fact, a MacLaren? But the muffler looked warm, even if it would clash with her dark red cloak, so she wrapped the woolen fabric around her neck.
The housekeeper followed her outside. “If you would like to walk down to the loch, you can follow the lane. There is a path yonder that climbs the hill. It is steep, but the view is good. That path over there goes to the common grazing ground, and is not particularly interesting.”
“I see a path going over the hill in the other direction.” Elizabeth pointed. “What about that one?”
“Oh, no, not that one,” the housekeeper said quickly. “‘Tis washed out and not safe. Too steep to walk without scrambling, and it is very dull, nothing at all to see. You would not like it, not at all.”
“No doubt it is icy as well.” Elizabeth watched Mrs. MacLaren’s expression.
The housekeeper nodded emphatically. “Aye, very likely.”
Elizabeth did not suggest that it also looked like the sort of path rabid dogs might frequent, but she was sorely tempted. Someday she would have to explore along the path the housekeeper wished to keep her away from. “I will go along the ridge, then.”
“Very good, Miss. Do not be forgetting the sun sets quickly here in the hills.”
Even earlier than in Edinburgh? “I will be careful.”
She could feel the housekeeper watching her as she set off, and she was glad to pass out of view behind a rock outcropping. This was better. Free, and able to explore an unknown place. After mile or so she reached the top of the hill, the muscles of her legs feeling the climb. She turned slowly in a circle, taking in the view of snow-topped mountains and hills surrounding the loch beneath her, their barren sides offering a bleak beauty. The clean, crisp air filled her lungs, clearing out the soot of a winter’s worth of coal fires.
So what is going on at Inverardran House? That, my dear readers, is the question!
Back to my original reason for setting it in Scotland. Did changing the setting work to keep out the Fitzwilliams? Umm, mostly. At least I managed to keep Lady Frederica and Lord Matlock in England, and Lady Matlock only comes to Scotland at the very end. But it isn’t quite as Fitzwilliam-free as I planned. Invasive characters. Can’t live with them, can’t write without them!