During my trip to England in 2012, I was stymied on several issues in the new book I was trying to write. Cassandra Grafton took a fellow writer and me to Fountains Abbey, where toured the spectacular ruins, then walked around the lake at the neighboring Studley Royal Water Gardens and talked plot. We shot ideas back and forth, up and down, and around and around. By the time we’d made the entire circuit, all three of us had solved major problems in our current books, and Mr. Darcy’s Noble Connections was off to a roaring start. In honor of that day, I set an important scene in a ruined abbey much like Fountains Abbey. Since then, whenever one of us gets stuck on a scene, we say, “I need to take a walk around Fountains Abbey.”
I’ve been working on a new story, and I definitely need a walk around Fountains Abbey. Since the real thing isn’t available, I’m going to try a virtual version and ask your help. Usually the early stages of a novel flow easily for me. It’s the end that’s hard. This time around, I’ve started four stories and ditched three of them in the first 10,000 words. I began a story where Wickham successfully eloped with Georgiana, and quit it because it was too dark. Next came a tale where Darcy’s parents were still alive and annoyingly meddlesome, but that got put aside because I had too much trouble trying to write Darcy’s parents as anything different from the delightful young couple they had been in The Darcys of Derbyshire. Then it was a story where Darcy and Elizabeth had met briefly before, leaving her with a very negative impression of him, but their reunion didn’t flow. So now I’m onto story #4 and at that dangerous 9,000 word mark. Fortunately, I do have a good idea where I’m going this time. It’s just getting through this scene that’s difficult.
This story uses a common scenario – Darcy and Elizabeth stranded alone together. Reason: snowstorm. When: the day of Charlotte’s wedding to Mr. Collins. Where: a laborer’s cottage few miles from Meryton. Why: That would be giving the plot away! First I’ll give you a little tidbit of a part that’s working.
A burning knife was digging a hole in Darcy’s skull. Why? He just wanted to sleep. The cold had gone away. If only the knife would go away as well!
“Mr. Darcy. Mr. Darcy!” A female voice called his name urgently.
He wanted to ignore it, but it stirred some memory. He forced his eyes open to discover the visage of Elizabeth Bennet only inches from his face. “You,” he said distinctly, “are not supposed to be here.”
“I am not supposed to be here?” Her voice rose sharply on the words. “You are the one who… oh, never mind. Are you well enough to walk?”
“Walk? Why would I want to walk?”
She closed her eyes as if hunting inside herself for patience. “Because it is snowing and you are injured.”
“I am not injured. I am merely resting.”
This time her lips twitched, catching his gaze. “I see. You have chosen to rest by the side of the road in the middle of a snowstorm with a gash in your head. An interesting choice, Mr. Darcy. Personally, I would recommend a warm bed next time.”
How tempting her lips were! “A warm bed sounds very good to me, although hardly for resting.”
Elizabeth turned her face away, but he thought she was laughing. “Come, sir. I must take you to shelter. I fear you are confused from your injury.”
He frowned. Had her normal intelligence deserted her? “I already told you I am not injured.”
With a sigh, she reached down and touched her hand to the burning knife, sending it ever deeper into his skull. He winced as she held up a bloody fingertip in front of him. “Sir, you are bleeding. That is generally a characteristic of injuries.”
Was she laughing at him? He tried to raise himself to a sitting position, since it was not polite to lie down in front of a lady, but the knife twisted painfully and he had to bite down on his lip to keep from crying out. So he was injured after all. That explained a great deal. “Ah, yes, I suppose it is.”
An icy gust of wind blew past. Elizabeth grabbed her bonnet, holding it to her head. “Mr. Darcy, the storm is worsening. We cannot remain here.”
Now onto the troublesome part. Darcy, as you may have gathered, has a mild concussion and is rather confused on the first day. This segment takes place when they wake up the following morning on a pallet in front of the hearth. Elizabeth had thought they were sleeping far enough apart, but, well, you know what happens. Here’s the scene, and then I’ll pose my question.
Elizabeth awoke with unusual stiffness, and curled closer to Jane to share her warmth. But the body next to hers did not smell of Jane’s rosewater, but of wood smoke, wet leather, and something essentially male. Her eyes flew open, revealing dark, stiff cloth in front of her face. Good Lord! She was entwined with Mr. Darcy! If her heart pounded any harder, it might burst her chest. She could not allow him to discover her in this utterly compromising position. She would have to remove his arm around her, holding her to his warmth, without awakening him. With the utmost care, she slowly raised her chin until she could see his face. And his eyes. Watching her.
Her throat constricted. Why was he looking at her in that manner? So intent, so serious, so…she did not even have words for it, but it made her feel quite odd. And he had not released her. What must he be thinking of her? Sitting up so quickly it made her dizzy, she scrambled backwards away from him. The shock of cold air once she was a few feet from the hearth shook away any last vestiges of sleep, leaving her insides quaking over what had just happened. If anyone had discovered them, she would have been ruined, or forced to marry Mr. Darcy. Which would be worse? At least he would be as invested in keeping the incident a secret as she was. He would not wish to be tied to a country squire’s daughter. But even if no one else ever found out, she would still know.
With shaking hands she smoothed her skirts, though they were wrinkled beyond any hope of presentability. Even her plait had become partially undone. She combed it out with her fingers, then quickly twisted it into a simple knot, all the while refusing even to look in Mr. Darcy’s direction. She could not even hope to play the part of a gentlewoman in her current condition.
“Have you any idea how delighted Miss Bingley would be to find herself in your shoes this morning?” Mr. Darcy’s deep voice from behind her made her jump.
She turned to discover he still lay on the pallet, though he was now propped up on one elbow. It was frighteningly intimate to see him so different from his usual formal self. Her cheeks grew hot. “I did not plan it. I was completely unaware of where I was.”
“I know that.” He sounded perfectly reasonable, as if this were a conversation about the weather over the breakfast table. “Although other women have tried, I cannot imagine you attempting to entrap me.” He held out his hand to her. Was he trying to invite her back to bed?
Her fingernails bit into her palms. “I have no expectations of you, beyond that you will never breathe a word of this to anyone.”
“You may depend upon my discretion, of course, but I know my responsibilities as well as you do.”
“Then I release you from those responsibilities. As long as no one knows we were both here, no harm has been done.”
He raised an eyebrow. “The fact you have been away overnight is damaging already.”
It did not matter whether it was true or not. She had no intention of being trapped in a marriage like her mother’s with a husband who regretted his choice every day of his life. “My fondness for long walks is well known, and no one would be surprised if I sought shelter until the storm passed. Most likely many people were stranded in Meryton by the snow. Everyone will assume I was one of them.” She turned away to signal the conversation was over.
Either she must be dreaming, or he was still suffering from the blow to her head. In his normal state, Mr. Darcy would be furious at being forced to marry an impertinent country nobody. He was more fortunate than he deserved to be with one of the few women who had no desire to take advantage of the situation. Good Lord, married to Mr. Darcy! Her shiver had nothing to do with the cold.
It was imperative they leave this place as soon as possible, preferably separately. Bracing herself for the chill, she approached the window. It was completely frosted over, allowing only a weak light through. She scratched at the frost, then blew on it to clear a peep hole. Her shoulders slumped at the sight of white clouds of snow still falling. Deep drifts of snow covered everything in the small area she could make out. There would be no escape from Mr. Darcy yet.
So, here’s where I’m getting stymied. What is Darcy’s reaction to her refusal? Prior to this scene, he’s very attracted to her, even somewhat in love with her, but is determined not to marry her because of the harm it would do to his family name. Now she has come to his assistance when he was injured and compromised herself as a result, he has no other honorable choice but to marry her. He’s quite content – he gets to have his cake (Elizabeth) and eat it, too, since he doesn’t have to feel guilty about it. After all, it was the honorable thing to do. But then Elizabeth unexpectedly says no. What goes through Darcy’s head? Is he angry she isn’t cooperating? Worried about her? Half-relieved by her refusal? Not taking her seriously? I can argue this case half a dozen different ways, so I thought I’d throw it open to all of you. What’s your opinion?