I have exciting news! My next release, Letters from the Heart, is off to the editors and should come out in December 2014. I’m even more excited because I finished my editing and additions a few days before my October 31st cut off date.
Letters from the Heart has been through the works a few times. I originally posted the story as “The Best Laid Plans” about a year ago. The total word count was 7,999 words and came from Beyond Austen’s “Wacky Holiday” short story prompt. There were a series of suggested holidays and I chose “Letter Writing Day.” The word limit was 8,000 words and I did not plot the story well and really hit the limit. Dissatisfied with the rushed nature of the closing I pulled it back out in April. I doubled the length and allowed betas to work their magic, posting it as “Knowing You by Heart.” When I considered publishing it a friend reviewed it and really suggested that I extend it even further. And so we have Letters from the Heart at 36,067 words- before final edits. So, it’s been a lot of additional writing. Nearly all of the original work was put in the first three chapters.
Here’s the tentative synopsis: Resolved to forget Elizabeth Bennet while wintering in London, Fitzwilliam Darcy writes a letter in bitterness of spirit. Annoyed at her growing obsession with the arrogant man, Elizabeth journals her thoughts. Unfortunately, tormented minds are not always the clearest.
And as a special treat to you, I am including a new excerpt from Chapter 4.
With such disheartened thoughts Elizabeth entered the drawing-room, and soon thereafter Mr. Wickham and some other officers entered to call on the ladies. Wickham began his familiar complaints about Darcy, but Elizabeth could not stand for it.
“I wonder, Mr. Wickham, that you were not able to find another parish.”
He shifted his eyes uncomfortably and paused before answering. “My only contacts were through Darcy, and his malice was so strong he would not see me settled anywhere.”
“Surely he cannot have such power over the entire kingdom, sir. Perhaps when my ordained cousin, Mr. Collins, returns in a few days he might have a recommendation for you.”
Wickham winced, and Elizabeth continued. “I only thought, sir, it would be a shame for you to waste your education and what must assuredly be a vocation for you. If you have the opportunity to give sermons and get some bit of your just due— after all a clergyman earns more than a militia officer— then it must be worth any pain to your pride.”
He gave her a glare at the reminder of his income.
“For you would have spent three years studying for ordination and two years since awaiting orders somewhere, I believe.”
Wickham’s friend, Denny, perked up then. “Ordination? I know I met you three years ago when you lived at Lincoln’s Inn.” Denny stifled a howl as Wickham stomped on his foot. His exclamation of pain brought the notice of the room.
Wickham attempted to explain as all eyes focused on him but sounded unconvincing, “Darcy had made it plain at his father’s death, just as I was finishing at Cambridge that he would deny me the living. I sought to study the law instead.”
Elizabeth hid her smirk at how fast his story changed. “That would have been a very great thing for you, indeed! But whatever happened? How could you afford it in the first place?”
“I was given a bequest of one thousand pounds.”
“I am glad to hear Mr. Darcy was not so hateful after all, to not give you anything from the will and that you were able to study. Such a sum must have covered all your costs.” One thousand pounds to study the law was just sufficient but an additional three thousand pounds was more than enough for educational and reasonable societal pursuits alike.
“There is that…but the living ought to have been mine.” He clearly chose not to address the fact that apparently he did not face the bar and could only blame it on his poor understanding or running low on funds and not finishing his education.
“I rather recall you mentioning it could be treated as conditional only, as Mr. Darcy claimed you rather extravagant.”
She paused, and Wickham gaped, searching for something to say.
“But then, we cannot think so generously of Mr. Darcy. Instead, let us consider the good fortune his father bestowed upon you by ensuring with every lawful means you received the one thousand pounds, to give you such a start in life.”
“Yes, I will forever be grateful for the kindness of the father.”
“It does you credit that you have not forgot him.”
Elizabeth gave Wickham a knowing look, and she could tell he understood her perfectly. Not many weeks ago he had vowed to never say a negative word of Darcy unless he could forget the good of his father.
Having heard the officers from his library, Mr. Bennet came and sat with them. Elizabeth cast worried looks to him, and soon he pointedly engaged in monopolizing Wickham’s time exclusively for the remainder of the call. Lydia seemed displeased, but was easily consoled with attention from others.
When they had left, Elizabeth followed her father into the library.
“Papa, in light of Mr. Darcy’s information on Mr. Wickham, what do you plan to do?” He did not look up from his book.
“Plan to do?”
“He is a rake and a gamester, surely a threat to our community.”
At his silence, she persevered. “Please, Papa. I was so mistaken in Mr. Darcy’s character and so willingly spoke against him even more so in the last week. Please, some redress is the least I can do.”
Mr. Bennet sighed and finally focused on his daughter. “What would you have me do? Mr. Darcy did not authorize us, or I should say you, to say anything about Wickham – if he even meant to send that letter at all. He left the area without concern for us, surely he must consider Wickham no great threat to us.”
“Perhaps…but he also had no connections in the area. It would be quite impertinent for him to tell the area’s residents how to protect themselves from such an unworthy man. Nor could he say anything on Wickham’s dalliances without risking too much about his sister. The whole area is very prejudiced towards him. It would be the death of half the good people of Meryton to find out that Wickham is a cad and from Mr. Darcy’s own mouth. Yet, you they may believe.”
Her father groaned, and Elizabeth hastily spoke. “You need not be direct, after all you have no information of your own, but you are clever and well-respected. You can plant the seeds of doubt. How much is he spending, and how much does he earn? Is he known to treat the ladies respectably? Use his words against him. Why, just now I just found many holes in his story about Mr. Darcy denying him the living with a few simple questions!”
“Did you now?” he asked with pride.
Elizabeth smiled, “Indeed! I cannot think of how foolish I was to fall for it in the first place. If he was prepared for ordination then he would have done the necessary studies and been able to find work somewhere. If he did not study then what did he do between his godfather’s death and when the living fell vacant and how could he expect Mr. Darcy to give him the living unqualified?”
“Just now, after a friend gave him away, he declared that he realized upon graduation from university that Mr. Darcy never intended to give him the living, and so he chose to study law instead.”
Mr. Bennet’s eyebrows shot up in silent query, and his daughter continued. “Of course, how could a penniless steward’s son afford that in the first place? He confessed to receiving a bequest of one thousand pounds which ought to have been sufficient to study. I did not bait him further by asking him why he was not a lawyer, or telling him I knew of the additional three thousand pounds Mr. Darcy gave him, but I did subtly remind him of his declaration to me weeks ago, that he would not besmirch the Darcy name out of loving memory for his godfather.
“So you see, we just need to make some statements like so, and he will lose all credibility. Hopefully the merchants will not extend him so much credit that they are hurt when he leaves the area, and when others know he is not to be entirely honourable, they will hopefully defend their daughters.”
“You might be correct.” He paused for a minute. “And we have a special advocate amongst us.”
Understanding him, Elizabeth suppressed a chuckle. “Do you think Mamma would like to visit my Aunt Phillips?”
Mr. Bennet laughed heartily.
“What is so amusing?”
“I certainly do know she desires to visit your aunt and tell her all about your supposed engagement as she saw your letter.”
“She only saw the opening declaration and then skipped to find the name of the author before shrieking in hysterics. She knows nothing of his other words.” Elizabeth’s cheeks burned scarlet. “I am uncertain we can hope she will not spread it abroad, but perhaps if we distract her with discounting Wickham in an effort to raise the community’s opinion of Mr. Darcy that will work for the afternoon. After all, he may be as ‘good as a Lord’ as she put it, but she would certainly want you to be the envy of the county and not just for his riches.”
“Father, he may not offer for me and there may be no need otherwise…”
“Fine, fine. Have it your way, but I find it excessively amusing that we may rid the county of Wickham and save your Mr. Darcy’s reputation through the silliness of your mother.”
He meant it as a jest, but Elizabeth could not help but recall Darcy’s rather just accusations of the impropriety of her family and blushed again. “Father, as useful as that trait will be in this case, you must see it is not always so. My mother means well but can do material harm to our credit, especially as my youngest sisters are allowed to go unchecked. I cannot but think that if he had not so despised our family’s behaviour he might not have counselled Mr. Bingley on leaving the area. Even if they both believed Jane indifferent, her affections might have been won or even deemed bearable if not accompanied by such vulgar relations. No, it was not her modesty which is to blame, but the actions of her own family, myself included.”
“Such squeamish youths.”
“Squeamish! Men of sense do not want to be connected to a family prone to disaster. Were we not just speaking of the misfortunes that could befall a lady that accepts Wickham’s attentions? Do you really believe your daughters somehow immune from such charms? And not just him, but any man willing enough to give them the attention and affection they find lacking elsewhere?”
Suddenly realizing what she implied, she quit speaking. She expected to see her father angry, but instead saw sad acknowledgement, resignation and guilt on his face.
“Forgive me, father.”
“No, no. I have at last seen that I must be cautious. I will speak with your mother, and we will begin a course of improvement.”
Humbled that he could take her opinion so readily, Elizabeth gazed at her hands. “Thank you.”
“Now, I am certain you will wish to accompany your mother, so round up your sisters while I go and explain to her why we must save your young man’s reputation.”
“Papa, please. No more teasing. You read his letter. His senses were addled. If we can prevent the gossip, then there is no reason for him to marry me. I do this only because it is required of my honour.”
She left the room and did not hear her father mumble, “I recall perfectly well being in love against my will five and twenty years ago, my dear. Make no mistake about it, he does love you and will come and take you away from me.”