It’s November, and among many other things, that means National Novel Writing Month to me. NaNo or NaNoWriMo, as it’s shortened to, is a contest writers can have with themselves. The goal is to write a novel, defined as 50,000 words, in a month. Anyone can join, it’s free, and there’s no real prize aside from an insane sense of accomplishment.
Considering my choices for NaNo and looking through my unfinished projects, I really felt drawn to a short story I wrote four years ago. I added a few thousand words to it last year in an attempt to expand it to a novella. Inspiration waned, and I was soon struck by another piece. This time, my mind fired with possibilities. I won’t reveal them all, yet, but this was the opening premise, suggested by another, from four years ago: What if Elizabeth Bennet had been forced to marry Darcy but never fell in love with him?
Many of my favorite stories to read and write are Forced Marriage Scenarios (FMS) wherein Darcy and Elizabeth are forced to marry to rescue her reputation, usually from an imagined compromise. The person who gave this prompt stated, usually, in these stories some wiser head tells Darcy or Elizabeth that they’ll eventually fall in love and all will be well. But what if it didn’t?
Skeptical of anything that could separate our dear couple (ODC), I questioned where the story arc was and also pointed out how difficult it would be to write a Regency story that spanned an entire marriage whereas a modern tale requires no reason to stay married if not in love.
The gnawing question of “what if?” wouldn’t leave me alone and, in a haze of PMS and with a jar of Nutella at my side, I wrote a piece called “You Must Allow Me to Tell You.” It still shocks me to this day. I cried while writing it, I still cry when I read it, and most of the comments I received online involved tears.
Below is the original opening scene. Now, it comes somewhere in the middle. Be forewarned, there is a character death, but I do promise a happily ever after for Darcy and Elizabeth.
April 4, 1837
Fitzwilliam Darcy took an unsteady step and peered at the marker before him as he shaded his eyes. The sunlight felt harsh and pained his head, due to more than the effects of near-constant inebriation over the last three days. All light had left his world, and he could not account for the fact that the sun could shine at all. It should not. Once again, he was reminded how useless he was, how little he could control and order things. He who liked to have his own way perhaps more than any other man he had ever known. Certainly more than any other man she had ever known, which she hesitated not to tell him so recently.
It was just another argument. One of many over the last five and twenty years of marriage and as usual, he was too selfish to hear her hurt and pain. How was he to know it would be the last time he ever saw her beautiful face? He now knew he could never forget the turn of her countenance, her eyes filled with unshed tears, disappointment, and regret. The last words spoken from the most perfect mouth that ever existed were, “I cannot speak on this at present. I am leaving for a walk, Fitzwilliam.”
Elizabeth Darcy had delighted in Pemberley’s paths and often took long walks. From the first moment, she saw the estate and grounds it was evident she would enjoy them immensely. Remaining outside for three hours, there was little cause for concern. That she chose to walk instead of enjoying afternoon tea with Darcy rankled him, and he hid in his study. He would not seek her out, this time. When three hours turned to six, and the mistress of the house still had not returned, the servants became restless. It was no secret she was their favourite and no secret she was an exemplary mistress. Despite her humble origins, she managed the estate with more grace, generosity, and good sense than the ladies in most of London’s oldest families. Mrs. Bennet had taught her to be an excellent hostess, and Mr. Bennet taught her sense and wisdom. Darcy knew that now, but learning to value her relations came too late in their marriage to make a difference.
Elizabeth never returned of her own will. He found her eight hours later, as daylight slipped to evening, on her favourite footpath.There had been excessive amounts of rain that washed the road away some, leaving the occasional unexpected rock. Had she been walking she would have seen them, but Darcy surmised she must have been running. She clearly tripped over one rock and as she fell, struck her head on another larger one. The first thing he saw after finding her on the ground was her lifeless eyes. Her mesmerising eyes that always held so much emotion, all the light snuffed out. He had done this. He had driven her to vexation, pushed her to need the exercise in what she must have already viewed as more a prison sentence than a life worth living. Had she felt pain? Had she suffered? He held her stiff and cold body as he attempted to choke back sobs. He was confident it was the last time he would feel anything again.
His mind came back to the present, Darcy raked his hands through his now greying curls and shook his head. He cast one long glance at the marker as he was uncertain he could ever look upon again and read it:
Beloved wife and mother.
What.Did.I.Just.Do????? How can I promise an HEA after killing Elizabeth? You’ll just have to trust me. Look for THE SECRETS OF PEMBERLEY to release in February 2018.
Let me know what you think of this excerpt and if you’re curious or terrified to read the full novel! And please let me know if you read this short story when it originally posted. I think you’ll be amazed at how this extended version turns out!