I'm so excited to have the lovely Joana Starnes visit here today. She always has such interesting posts and this one is no exception. You will also enjoy an excerpt from Chapter 11 of her newest release, The Falmouth Connection. Oh, it will leave you wanting to read more!
Please join me in welcoming back Joana Starnes.
Hopefully I might be allowed to begin with a treasured memory. The summer before last, as I was reading the interviews at More Agreeably Engaged, one of my happy-places of all time, I came across a post by Linda Wells and I shall remember it always. There was a paragraph that stayed with me, for the beauty of the thought and for the delightful way to describe what it is that all of us authors of Pride and Prejudice variations are doing. I will quote it here because I think it was just perfect!
Everybody knows Darcy and Elizabeth. What new thing can possibly be revealed about two characters who have been dissected by hundreds of writers, on both the scholarly and fan fiction sides of things? And that’s where it strikes me. How many times have artists painted the same scene? How many students have sat around a studio with the same model before them, and yet every painting produced is unique. Each student chooses a particular feature to highlight, a preferred style and medium to use, and inevitably, each mixes their individual feelings into the finished piece. The same goes for writing Jane Austen variations. We all start with the same story, the same characters, and then… our imaginations are set free to paint that new picture with words. (Linda Wells, More Agreeably Engaged, 27 August 2013)
So aptly put, so beautiful – and so very true. Here we are, students painting the same model, yet each of us using different brush strokes, adding our own shades of colour, our own touches of shadow and light to produce unique results, even if the subject matter is the same. If you ever read this, Linda, thank you for this exquisite image!
We simply cannot have enough of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, so we spin new stories, paint new pictures, changing details and angles until we come up with something unique and hopefully attractive. No, we do not presume to improve upon Jane Austen. Who can improve on perfection? We just want more of our favourite couple – and as many versions as possible of the best love story ever written!
Recently I have added a new one to the mix. ‘The Falmouth Connection’, my latest Pride and Prejudice variation, sails on an altered course some days after Darcy’s arrival at Rosings. He has finally won the battle against himself and has decided to propose to the enticing Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
But what if he does not get the chance to utter that most ungentlemanly Hunsford proposal? What if Elizabeth is summoned to Falmouth to meet a great-aunt she never knew she had? What if this great-aunt, Mrs. Pencarrow, is very different from what Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy imagine her to be? What if this unplanned journey brings Elizabeth into a whole new world – and Mr. Darcy too, for of course he is compelled to follow! A world of secrets and deception, with an aura of mystery and the ever-present frisson of danger brought by age-old tales of smugglers and pirates. Not to mention a troublesome French Connection and a Justice of Peace whom Darcy suspects he is rather different from what he seems to be…
If you are intrigued, please read the following excerpt from Chapter 11.
Mr. Darcy has finally arrived in Cornwall, having had some difficulty in finding the place where Elizabeth and her family are staying – an ancient house known as Landennis Manor. He arrives to find her ill-disposed towards him. Worse still, he arrives to find her courted by a peer of the realm, no less! Moreover, unlike Darcy, Lord Trevellyan had not spent the best part of their acquaintance striving to ignore her and maintain his distance. And before the day is out, Darcy will discover some startling truths and find himself on quicksand, devoid of every familiar advantage…
* * * *
“But Sir,” Mrs. Bennet suddenly addressed him, distracting him from distressing ruminations, “I quite forgot to ask. Whereabouts are you staying?”
“I have not determined, Ma’am,” Darcy replied in subdued tones. “I have just arrived. I should imagine an inn could be found in the local village.”
Mrs. Pencarrow, who had kept her peace since the return of the picnicking party and had merely contented herself with watching everybody with her sunken yet very penetrating eyes, all of a sudden laughingly interjected:
“Oh, nay, nay, Sir, we cannot have that! Landennis Arms is but an alehouse for the people in the village and if there is a room or two, they are hardly for the discerning traveller. I should not wonder if you were to find yourself in damp sheets and beset by bedbugs.”
With some effort, Darcy suppressed a shudder, knowing full well that Elizabeth’s eyes would be upon him. He chanced a glance, only to find that it was indeed so and that her lips were curled into a mischievous little smile, as though the notion was highly entertaining.
Was it so very bad, then? Did she dislike him now to so great an extent that she wished his sleep plagued by bedbugs? The thought pained him nearly as much as it riled him – and yet there was something so utterly adorable in her impish turn of countenance and in that little smile that, without intending to, Darcy found himself returning it in full. Her eyes widened visibly at the sight and for a moment she was positively staring, as though she had expected him to be offended rather than diverted – and then she looked away.
Darcy endeavoured to suppress a sigh at the magnitude of the task before him, his own eyes forcibly opened over the last half-hour to the obstacles he would have to overcome in order to re-establish himself in her good opinion. Hell and damnation, no, he could not even hope for that! Not re-establish. There was good reason to believe that he had engaged her affections and esteem only in his over-confident imagination – and that the task ahead was far more daunting than he had ever thought.
The sigh escaped. He masked it with a cough, then struggled to attend Mrs. Pencarrow, who had resumed speaking:
“I would very much like to ask you to stay with us here at the Manor, but I fear you shall not thank me for the offer. This old place has known a secluded life for far too many years and most of the bedchambers are hardly fit for purpose after nearly two decades of disuse. Still, I should imagine ‘tis a trifle better than Landennis Arms and all its bugs,” she laughed lightly and, despite himself, Darcy found himself warming to the older woman.
That he would have dearly loved to avail himself of her invitation, there could be no doubt. The unhoped-for chance to be under the same roof as Elizabeth and find a way to soften her towards him was as appealing as could be – and yet he did not need to catch her glance to know that he would read dismay in her too expressive eyes. Only a fool would hurt his chances by riling her further so, with some determination, Darcy brought himself to say:
“I thank you, Ma’am, but I should not wish to impose upon your kindness,” he quietly offered, then added with the vaguest hint of a diverted smile: “I think I shall pit myself against the bedbugs after all.”
A fleeting glance allowed him to see that Elizabeth arched a brow, although she kept staring at her hands and would say nothing. As for Mrs. Pencarrow, she merely returned his smile and bade him do just as he wished, as long as he remembered that the offer stood, if Landennis Arms proved too much for comfort. In the end, it was only Mrs. Bennet who saw fit to protest:
“But, Mr. Darcy, surely you cannot subject yourself to such an inconvenience! As my aunt suggested, you would be most welcome here, Sir, most welcome indeed!”
It was fruitless to wish for the warm entreaty to be forthcoming from the daughter rather than the mother. Today at least, it would not come to pass. With a valiant effort at masking his distress, Darcy turned to Mrs. Bennet to thank her for the offer and let her know that he must abide by the original plan. Just then though, from the other end of the drawing room where he sat, quietly surveying the changing scene before him with all its undercurrents and wordless exchanges, Lord Trevellyan suddenly decided to speak up:
“If I may be allowed a say in the matter, I believe I can claim the doubtful privilege of having seen the inside of Landennis Arms more recently than most. As such, I truly would not recommend it, Mr. Darcy, for great many reasons, of which the bedbugs form only a small part. But, as a treasured acquaintance of Mrs. Bennet’s, you are welcome to come and stay at my house. ‘Tis but a short distance around the estuary – and shorter still across it – and I assure you that you can be accommodated without the slightest inconvenience.”
Darcy looked up in unconcealed surprise at the wholly unexpected offer – only to meet the other man’s cool stare, fixed upon him from under vaguely arched brows. It was not the deliberately blank look that riled him beyond sense and reason, but the glance full of astonished gratitude that Darcy saw Elizabeth bestow upon the other man. He pressed his lips together, willing his churning turmoil into some measure of tenuous control.
Not a fool then, my lord Trevellyan, but a crafty devil! In one fell swoop – and a rather elegant one as well, Darcy felt compelled to own – he had gathered most of the trumps and all the laurels. Not only had he steered him away from Landennis Manor and its environs but – damn him and his cunning! – by doing so, he had gained the aura of a Good Samaritan into the bargain.
Gallingly, there was nothing he could say other than, “I thank you, I am most obliged” – and he said so, with as much evenness as he could muster.
“Think nothing of it,” the other casually retorted, then put down his empty cup. “Well then, if you have no objection, Mr. Darcy, perhaps we should take our leave, seeing as we ought to make ourselves presentable in time for dinner,” he added and, once more feeling vexingly outmanoeuvred, Darcy could do nothing but agree.
Adieus were made, restrained and providing little comfort, and before too long Darcy found himself in his own carriage, with Lord Trevellyan leading the way on his bay horse.
The journey took no more than a half-hour. The man was in the right; his house was not far – a grand and very handsome residence, Jacobean in appearance, atop the hill that overlooked the river mouth.
Casting the reins to one of his men and instructing another to see to his guest’s carriage and people, Lord Trevellyan motioned towards the entrance and they both made their way within.
“Can I offer you a drink while your trunk is brought up?” the host offered and, once more, Darcy felt that civility compelled him to agree.
He followed Lord Trevellyan to a room that presumably served as his study or something of that nature, dark-panelled and very masculine in its décor.
Lord Trevellyan poured for both and they sipped their drinks in silence. For his part, Darcy was rather persuaded that he had been brought there for an oblique quizzing and, in order to forestall it, he began at once – much as disguise of every sort was his abhorrence.
“Your kindness is deeply appreciated, Lord Trevellyan. However, I should not wish to impose upon you. As the local inn does not come with good recommendations, I can easily lodge in Falmouth and engage a craft to bring me across the bay – particularly as I expect a friend of mine to arrive in these parts in a few days’ time.”
“Mr. Darcy, surely there is no cause to lodge across the bay. You are of course welcome to stay for as long as you wish and so is your friend, when he arrives. You have only to send one of your men to Falmouth to await him and escort him hither. As to the local inn, as I said before, the likelihood of bedbugs is the least of your concerns. From what I understand, it is the haunt of the sort of people who would not take kindly to a stranger in their midst.”
“Oh? What sort of people would that be?”
His host smiled.
“Would you not hazard a guess?”
“Smugglers? Pirates? Wreckers?”
His lordship’s smile grew a trifle wider.
“Let us just say, your first guess is not vastly off the mark.”
“And is the law powerless against them?”
“I daresay I am – to some extent at least. Oh, did you not know?” he added, noting the other’s expression of surprise. “Perhaps Mrs. Bennet did not have the opportunity to mention that I am Justice of Peace for this parish.”
“In answer to your question, I am not so much powerless as disinclined to wage a losing battle.”
“’Tis the nature of things that in every part of the world people would make a living by hook or by crook and, after all, we cannot send everybody to Botany Bay. We catch the big fish – or at least we try to. But never mind that now. I should imagine your room must be readied and presumably a bath as well, so you might wish to retire and refresh yourself, since we are to wander back towards Landennis in a few hours. Ah, that reminds me. You might find that our steep and narrow lanes are better suited to riding than to a London carriage. You are most welcome to choose a mount from the stables.”
“You are very gracious – but speaking of Landennis,” Darcy resumed, refusing to be sidetracked, “I can only hope that the unsavoury characters you mentioned pose no threat to the people at the Manor.”
With a swift, stiff movement from his shoulder, Lord Trevellyan drained his glass.
“I am making it my business to ensure they do not,” he said at length and Darcy frowned.
“Would that not be best achieved by tackling a known nest of vipers?” he asked with an arched brow and for a moment he was certain that Lord Trevellyan would bristle at his interference.
Whether or not he was tempted to, Lord Trevellyan did not bristle. He merely offered curtly:
“It would not.”
In the end, it was Darcy who bristled.
“Then how do you propose to ensure their safety?”
“I have my ways,” was all that the other was prepared to offer and at that, Darcy rather lost his temper.
“For my part, I hope they will soon return where they belong!”
“And where might that be?”
“Hertfordshire, of course.”
And in her case Derbyshire, God willing, but that was something he could not – would not say.
“What makes you so certain that they belong in Hertfordshire?” Lord Trevellyan drawled, riling him even further.
“I fail to understand your meaning.”
“Mrs. Pencarrow has informed me that their Hertfordshire estate is entailed upon a distant cousin. A Kentish rector by the name of Collins, if memory serves.”
A Kentish rector? Collins? Heavens above! Him? Darcy all but gasped. He was sufficiently acquainted with Mr. Collins to know that the man had about as much affectionate compassion as the gatepost of Hunsford parsonage. Heaven forefend, should anything befall Mr. Bennet, that man would have his family out of Longbourn before he was cold in his grave! Suddenly, in this light, Mrs. Bennet’s scheming to get her daughters married no longer held such repulsively greedy connotations.
“You seem uncommonly well informed about their business,” he observed coolly, to mask his discomfort at the revelations.
“It is my business to be well informed.”
“Is that so?” Darcy snapped, forgetting his manners. “To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Bennet and his family are not of this parish and thus beyond your remit!”
“Then perhaps it might serve you to become better informed,” the other drawled, clearly enjoying his advantage. “As such, you might wish to learn they have good enough reason to be of this parish. Or at least one of them has.”
Darcy’s jaw stiffened.
“Of whom are you speaking?”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Lord Trevellyan’s prompt and confident retort shook Darcy to the core. No! It could not be! He had not proposed already, surely – and she had not accepted!
“What makes you claim that?” he asked through frozen lips.
“Mrs. Pencarrow has chosen to appraise me of her wishes. It appears that each of the Miss Bennets are to receive a share of the lady’s considerable fortune – ”
“And what has this to do with Miss Elizabeth Bennet being of this parish?”
“Everything, I should imagine. You see, upon her great-aunt’s passing, of all her sisters, she is to be the mistress of Landennis Manor.”
* * * *
I hope you enjoyed the excerpt. There is a giveaway of course: an e-book available internationally. Please leave a comment to take part and thanks for visiting and reading! Do visit the book’s Facebook page listed in the links below, for details of giveaway winners and for images of the lovely places where it’s all supposed to have happened. Janet, thanks again for having me here, you’re simply wonderful as always and your kind welcome is hugely appreciated!
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Thank you so much for being my guest again, Joana. It is always such a pleasure. I agree that we cannot get enough of our dear Darcy and Elizabeth and the many predicaments that you authors imagine for them, much to our delight! Keep them coming!