Tomorrow is the start of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. To “win” a writer must meet the goal of writing 50,000 words in a month- or a lesser volume if they choose. My goal is 50,000 words towards Strife and Reconciliation and as I plan on being rather absent from the blog in the next month due to writing my little fingers off I thought I’d post a teaser. If I succeed in 50,000 words then I will have 72,000 words towards a first draft. I do foresee it being a full length novel, so it will likely have another 20,000 words or so to go from there but I might be able to slug that away in December.
So here’s my teaser. It is the first half of Chapter 3. Chapter 2 closes with Darcy and Elizabeth deciding to attempt a loveless courtship while Darcy will be at Longbourn. The idea being that they get to know one another’s character and disposition and then they will decide if they should marry. The courtship is obviously very abbreviated so it makes sense to just avoid things like feelings and attraction, right? Well, so they think.
Darcy sought out Mr. Bennet to explain the developments and Elizabeth expected an announcement at dinner but it seemed her father decided to keep Mrs. Bennet in the dark. After dinner that evening Mrs. Bennet asked for music. Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Her mother was still attempting to cast Darcy with her second or third daughter as the others did not play or sing.
Curiously Mary, who was usually eager to perform for company and gain praise, declined performing. Elizabeth found herself at the instrument. Darcy suggested his services to turn the pages and Mrs. Bennet grinned triumphantly. Elizabeth laughed to herself, if only her mother knew how little her help was required!
“Do you mean to frighten me by coming all this way to hear me, sir?”
He looked confused and glancing at the room noticed no one paying them attention. “Was this not to be the arrangement?”
“I am only teasing! I shall have no mercy on you though.” She shrugged her shoulders, “It is as I told you earlier. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened by the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”
“What do you find intimidating about my hearing you play?”
“I believed we established I was teasing you, sir.”
“So you enjoy professing opinions which are not your own?”
Elizabeth laughed at such an image. “Sometimes. Sometimes it is better to astonish with a false opinion than provoke ridicule with a true one.”
“Did we not agree on there being no artifice between us? I promise I will not ridicule your true opinion of being asked to perform.”
Elizabeth held his eyes for a moment. “Very well. My mother suggested it as a way to show off mine and Mary’s accomplishments. I dislike the standard that a lady must be accomplished to gain a husband, that we women must all naturally be in competition with one another. Emphasizing accomplishments also detracts from the enjoyment one may experience otherwise from the pursuit. It turns leisure and interest into a task. Nor is one encouraged to be too accomplished in one skill as that nearly always leads to the detriment of others.”
“You play very well.”
She shook her head. “My performance is not capital but I have always known it is my own fault. I do not play in a masterly manner but it is because I do not take the trouble of practicing, not because I believe myself incapable.”
Darcy smiled at her words and Elizabeth was all confusion. “You are perfectly right. You have employed your time much better. No one admitted to the privilege of hearing you can think anything wanting. I also do not perform to strangers.”
She scoffed. “You speak to an assembled crowd for a living.”
“This is true but I hope I do not perform soley to please and to their premeditated likes and dislikes. However, I meant that there are many things about society’s expectations I also find trying and to be nothing more than requiring me to be an actor on stage. But as for my sermons, I consider that but a small portion of my tasks.”
“You do not think it important?”
“I do not claim that. Surely telling the people of God’s love and care for them is important but it is not enough to simply tell them. The Church is meant to be Christ’s body on the Earth and we all have a duty to show Christ’s love through our care of one another.”
Elizabeth was uncertain she had ever heard such thoughts before. “You do not suggest people find piety through reading and prayer?”
“Certainly I encourage reading and prayer but the common person has little interest in this. There need not be a division between our tactile understanding of the temporal world and the Heavenly one. If we are motivated by our love of family and friends then how better to display Christ’s love, for he promised to restore the faithful their lost brethren? God certainly understands our need for familial love.”
“I think, sir, you are an evangelical!”
“Compared to some, perhaps, but I am more interested in my parish than politics. I have interests in many non-religious things, one of which is music.”
Elizabeth looked at him in surprise.
“You may well be surprised. My sister is quite proficient at the pianoforte.”
“Oh! Then I truly am frightened by you hearing me,” she teased but wondered if he understood.
“No, I will not believe it this time. You cannot really believe me designing to alarm you. I only explained my interest for two reasons.”
“I think I would rather not ask you anything about it. A man in your position must have some disappointment now and again.”
Darcy laughed. “You will insist in plaguing me! In teasing and laughing at me!”
“I do dearly love a laugh.”
“How fortunate that I am not without some follies, I hope they are not of understanding.”
“I do not believe they are for I cannot laugh at those.”
He smiled, it was a bit charming. “And yet you laugh at me easily enough!”
“I have decided to take mercy on you after all. What was your purpose of telling me you are in the habit of hearing the very best performers?”
He smiled wider and shook his head. “Georgiana would be afraid to hear herself described as such and while I like the opera, I cannot claim I get to go frequently at all. But I do know good skill and expression and I desired you to know I do not make this compliment lightly. I am enchanted by your performance.”
Elizabeth blushed. “And the other reason?”
“I am following your advice. For I have not given specifics on which compositions I prefer, but rather that I do enjoy music.”
She smiled. Many would have thought her silly but he took her opinion seriously.
He glanced around the room. “You must have noticed your father did not make our courtship known. He has agreed to allow certain liberties, for if it were known we would necessarily be chaperoned and we have agreed we have much to learn of each other.”
Elizabeth raised her eyebrow at this. She sincerely doubted her mother would object to leaving a suitor alone with her daughter, but Darcy continued.
“Your father has stated he would not be displeased to learn we had stumbled upon each other on another walk.” He raised his eyebrows at her.
“I see. I often walk after breakfast but as you seem to prefer dining with my father it would be doubtful for us to enjoy an excursion together with my sisters. I enjoy solitary rambles but welcome pleasant company should it find me, however, it seldom does as I walk to the south and it seems most others are interested in going northward.”
The party broke up soon afterwards and in their room Jane spoke to Elizabeth.
“Lizzy, how comfortable you looked with Mr. Darcy!”
“Do not tease me. He is pleasant to talk with. Certainly you see someone must.”
“Surely we should be hospitable but why must we allow one to give favor over the others?”
It was as Elizabeth thought, the notion of marriage to the heir never even occurred to Jane. “The entail, dear.”
“Oh.” Jane’s face took on a look of fear.
“You need not be so alarmed. Mamma has quite settled you with Mr. Bingley and if I am not mistaken he has as well.”
“No, you cannot deter me by teasing.”
“Mary seems uninterested. I confess it surprises me as I had thought she would desire a clergyman.”
“So you have taken it upon yourself?”
“It is the mere process of elimination. Mr. Darcy has acknowledged it himself. I am only relieved he is amiable.”
“I think it might be more than merely elimination on his behalf. He seemed to genuinely admire you this evening.”
“We are simply trying to make the most use of every half hour we have together. Is that not what Charlotte Lucas always tells us?”
Jane grabbed Elizabeth’s hands and entreated her earnestly. “Do not become so practical in your views of marriage that you will give up hopes for affection. At the very least if you cannot esteem him and do not genuinely like him do not marry him! You would suffer such agonies if you could not respect yourself in marriage.”
Elizabeth agreed. As she tried to sleep she could not help but wonder if she actually liked Darcy or simply tried to find the best in the situation.
There were to be no walks, solitary or otherwise, the following day as Jane had intelligence Mr. Bingley and the entire Netherfield party intended to arrive with a formal invitation to the ball to be held the following Tuesday. Darcy found himself saying a silent prayer to forebear whatever his brother decided to test him with. Instead the Netherfield Party arrived bearing news that Mr. George Darcy had already left for London. Caroline Bingley looked at Darcy in disgust, as though he was the sole reason for his brother’s departure and therefore had escaped her clutches once again. Darcy rather imagined George simply missed London or needed to pay a creditor.
Louisa and Stewart Hurst seemed pleasant enough. Louisa was rather vacant-headed and her husband even more so. Their brother was clearly very amiable and Darcy wondered at Bingley’s friendship with George, but then George could please where he wanted.
Their visit was not long, the sisters would not allow Bingley a lengthy call but he had sat near Jane and talked to her with eagerness. Jane, Darcy observed, met Bingley’s words with shy smiles and furitive glances. It was all much more attention than he had ever received from Jane and he could only suppose she was genuinely attached to the gentleman. In his opinion, brief as the acquaintance had been, they would be well-suited to one another. He hid his wry smile at the idea of already thinking of Jane as a sister and how much he liked the idea of one of his sisters matched with a gentleman of such ease and manners but also adequate fortune to care for them.
After the call the ladies all dispersed, he presumed to discuss it in minute detail and begin more preparations of the ball. Mrs. Bennet was loudly all aflutter. Elizabeth shot him a look as Jane tugged on her hand and he surmised she was sorry to leave him alone. He found himself in the library with Mr. Bennet.
“Well, young man, how do you find us a few days later?”
“Everything is adequate to my comfort, you have been very hospitable to me.”
“Come, sir! You must give me something to laugh at.” Lydia ran by the room shrieking something about shoe roses and the gentlemen winced. “You see what else I have to hear? Do I not deserve some relief?”
“Your daughter is very like you, I think.”
Mr. Bennet smiled, “Yes, Lizzy is more like me than her mother.”
Darcy had an odd suspicion his potential father-in-law was to tell him some terrible flaw in his prospective bride. Perhaps it would be better to know less of each other’s faults. The thought surprised him, was it so important he married a Bennet daughter, specifically Elizabeth Bennet, over one with sense and a good nature? Yet, how could he forget his promise to his uncle?
Mr. Bennet seemed to take compassion on Darcy. “I can hardly think any man worthy of her. She has a quick and clever mind. Unlike either my wife or I she is prone to happiness and finds amusement in most things for the sheer sake off enjoyment, whereas I find amusement to ridicule. ‘Tis the necessity of a man who married foolishly. I must remind myself there are those who have made worse decisions.”
“Forgive me, but I wonder if that is wise.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Likely not, but I am too old to change now but it is Lizzy I wished to speak on. I hardly think any man is worthy of her and yet you seem determined.”
“I mean to fulfil my promise and duty. She is the most…eligible of all your daughters.”
“Yes, yes. You are sensible, intelligent and clever enough. You have a good income now and will inherit this estate, I cannot refuse you. But, that is my Lizzy you are expecting to take for your wife. She deserves more than just duty. I am of a mind to discourage her from accepting your suit.”
Darcy was growing alarmed at the lack of sense Mr. Bennet was displaying. Should he call for the family and the apothecary? Was his mind suddenly addled?
“Come, Darcy. Say you at least like her a little.”
“Oh!” What a loggerhead he was to not understand Mr. Bennet’s anxieites! “Well, certainly. I have seen nothing to repulse or offend me. She is amiable and appears sweet-tempered. She certainly is sensible and clever.”
“You see no defects in her?”
“I do not believe so…”
“Then it is hopeless. I believed Elizabeth’s suggestion to dispense with courtship formalities in an attempt for you to understand each other’s dispositions was very wise and might save you hardship should you marry. But if you believe her perfect and flawless then there is little hope.”
“I did not say I believe her perfect and flawless. I have known her but three days! How am I to know her disposition when angry, anxious or bored? Reasons for such sentiments have not arisen.”
“Then you must provoke them in her. You are far too accommodating.”
“Sir! You are actually telling me to attempt to anger your daughter?”
It sounded like madness to Darcy and he was still considering calling for the apothecary.
“Surely you have seen something to criticize. You were not smitten by her from the start.”
“I have already claimed to know little of her true character. It would be premature to criticize.”
“But you have looked at her often enough. How did you find her at first sight?”
“She was perfectly tolerable. Jane is the handsomer of the two, there is no doubt. Her beauty did not tempt me.”
He heard an angry gasp from behind him and wrenched his head around to see Elizabeth turn red and flee from the room. Looking back at Mr. Bennet, his companion was exceedingly amused.
“I dare say you have succeeded in your task,” the older gentleman said.
Darcy let out a frustrated and disgusted groan and followed after her. Exiting the room he saw Jane in the hallway with wide eyes. She simply pointed to the door leading outside and scurried away. He imagined it did not bode well for him if Elizabeth’s closest sister did not wish to be around when she was angry.
Darcy found her sitting on an old swing under a great tree.
“Miss Elizabeth,” he hailed her calmly, deciding to ascertain her feelings before knowing how to approach. She did not respond and he stood watching her for several minutes. Giving in he rubbed the back of his neck uneasily.
“How much did you hear?”
“Do you mean to ask me if I heard my father attempt to educate you into angering me and goad you into that statement so I might halve my anger between the two of you and you can claim innocence?”
Darcy had seldom been in true arguments and aside from angering his mother as a child had not dealt with an angry woman. He was aware, at least, this particular one was possibly too clever for him. “No, the fault would be mine entirely if for no other reason than for not calling the apothecary when I believed your father was losing his mind before my eyes.”
She finally looked up him then. He was surprised there was no evidence of tears. Even if she did not care for him he could only expect her to be upset as he had seen Georgiana at times. There was a sadness about her eyes though.
“Papa likes to tease but it really was almost too cruel of him if you believed he was having a fit of madness.” She smiled a little and Darcy eased.
“Yes, your father does not fight fair in a game of wits. I was too preoccupied with my concern for him to consider what I was saying.”
She raised an eyebrow. “You truly believed him addled?”
He laughed ruefully at himself. “I do not have the talent which some people possess of conversing easily. I must know a person for quite awhile before I can catch their tone of conversation. I find it difficult to appear interested in their concerns.”
Elizabeth smiled again. “I suppose if every man you met was as troublesome as my father I could understand that. It must have been difficult to appear interested in naming a flaw in me while believing my father insane.”
Darcy laughed and let out a deep sigh. He was uncertain if her anger was entirely past but it did not seem too unbearable. It certainly was justified and seemed proportional. “Please forgive me.”
“You are entitled to your opinions and it is no secret Jane is five times as pretty as every other woman of my acquaintance.”
“I should really never have said it but disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. I should have used a great policy and concealed my struggle.”
“Why have you settled on me, then? Is it for my impertinence?”
“For the liveliness of your mind.”
“That will not do, sir! You, who hates disguise, must be honest and call it the impertinence that it is.”
“No, I must not say. Your father asked me to enumerate faults and I could not find any but he did not ask me to praise you. I see much good in your behaviour.”
“Oh, I think you found a flaw readily enough.”
She stood from the swing and was smiling up at him, no doubt silently mocking him again and he could not understand the inspiration that struck him as he reached for one of her hands, other than the relief he felt to see her eyes shine with laughter again.
“That was only when I first saw you.”
To his own amazement he kissed her hand and tucked it on his arm while leading her back inside.