All authors go through their own distinct process to bring a fully-flowered novel to fruition. Some folks are quickly able to lay their plot against the background. Others…like me…stumble around, researching, sketching, writing, editing until they have it “just so.” I am not suggesting that one path is better than the other…only different. Yet, I have to believe that the life of authors who swiftly realize their vision must be persons who have better lives, are happier in general, and live with less stress.
Consider my path with The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and A Father’s Lament.
The first foundation stones for the book were laid in January 2018 as Part Two of “The Exile” was rolling through the final publishing process. However, what had originally seemed to be an obvious underlying plot…Mr. Bennet, urged by Mrs. Bennet’s loneliness for her fourth daughter, uses the Wardrobe to take his good lady on a journey to Kitty…refused to grow. Every time I tried to speedily bring the Master of Longbourn into contact with the villain, the Wardrobe resisted.
Eventually, I had to lay down the manuscript. T’was not working. I turned to another work—Lessers and Betters—to allow my ‘mental brownies’ to mull and cogitate.
Come July (yes…six months!): L&B was published…and I had to return to the Wardrobe.
A few elements in Avenger had continued to stand out during the hiatus: Tom Bennet needed to learn much (mostly on how to be a man worthy of daughters like Mary and Kitty), Mrs. Bennet was slowly being reeled into the Wardrobe’s embrace, and the novel was shaping up like a post-World War II noir film. These now began to come together in a manner that I had not expected. Perhaps t’was the espionage aspects of Lessers and Betters that stimulated my mind.
I realized that I could not begin the book (as originally planned) in 1814/1947 when the Bennets traveled in the Wardrobe. In fact, I realized that they could never hope successfully to conclude their mission without the assistance of others—let alone in a brief time window. Characters needed to be added and their backstories and lives needed to be colored in to create convincing persons who could be expected to assist The Founder in his quest to avenge Kitty.
Thus, the beginning of the book moved back two years to 1945: the middle of the smoking heap that was Europe. Readers will then discover my re-imagining of the story of the great British field agent, Eileen Nearne, and how she served as the spear tip in half of the vengeance that the dark person visited upon the Fitzwilliam clan. Her emergence as the love interest of her target (the Rt. Rev. Richard Fitzwilliam) is one part the plot movers designed to bring the Anubis team into being (the others being Letty and Denis Robard as well as Lizzy Cecil-Darcy and Alois von Schiller).
That realization cast the entire book into stark relief. The plot literally laid itself out before me, stretching into the distance. All I needed to do was to discern how to organize the overall work into a conceptual whole. Readers of the earlier Bennet Wardrobe books may recall that I divide my stories much as authors in the 18th and 19th Centuries did: by books. Each Book within the novel sets a conceptual tone. Thus, in “The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn,” the novel was a triptych—split into three conceptual wholes: Longbourn House, Madras House, and the Beach House.
The Avenger is split into six books using a modified symphonic structure to carry the reader through the entire work.
Prelude: The Preacher and The Rose
Pastorale: Rosa Chinensis
Scherzo: Encounters, close and otherwise
Denouement: Closing the Ring
And, with this framework in place, I have been able to move deep into the work. At about 110,000 words now, I am perhaps a week and four chapters from the ultimate end of this third volume of the Wardrobe series. Then Janet B. Taylor will begin her cover design and my betas will tell me where I need to massage the draft.
I hope to offer you the completed work by December 1st.
Until then, please enjoy this chapter from Book Four, Intermezzo, where Richard and Eileen finally (!) come to the point!
And please be sure to enter the drawing for a copy of the audiobook “The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque” by leaving a comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EDST, Monday, 11/12/18.
This excerpt from a Work in Progress is © 2018 by Donald P. Jacobson. Reproduction of this excerpt in its entirety or in part in any form—either print or electronic—without the express written consent of the author is strictly prohibited.
Here we find our characters at the Netherfield Harvest Ball (1948) where Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are determined to bring the final pair of lovers together. Note: Eileen Nearne is a “Lost Bennet,” having descended from the Charles Bingley-Jane Bennet line.
The waltz had left her breathless: not from exertion, but rather emotion. Feelings she had suppressed for nearly five years roared back into life much like a housefire supposedly extinguished, but with a few embers left smoldering. The oxygen which was his touch, his glance, his voice, fueled the fever coursing through her soul, so receptive now after her years under Miss Freud’s tutelage.
In recent months, whether in casual company at the Beach House or cloistered together above the great worktable that dominated the Anubis conference room, she had dared to hope, to pray that he might regard her as something other than a skilled agent. Yet, she had feared that, even if he respected her professional capabilities, he would be unable to open his heart to the woman who had tried to end his life.
Try as she might, Eileen could not tamp down the tremblings of that disloyal cord which stretched through the core of her being whenever she considered a future with Richard Fitzwilliam.
The worst betrayal, though, was her dreamtime. During her work with Freud, her nightworld had become remarkably active as her mind completed the heavy lifting she had begun each day in the consulting room. In the months since she had shifted from classic analysis into a schedule more suited for maintenance, Miss Nearne’s dreams had left the past behind, tending to explore possibilities. The most common themes were visions of peaceful fields, mountains, freshets pouring down from glaciers, and waves scouring the shore. While the idyllic nature was uniformly peaceful, t’was the revelation that there was another presence observing the vistas along with her in a profound sharing unlike any she had ever experienced. The completeness of the moment was only possible because Richard was there by her side and awakening left her bereft in the knowledge that their oneness was only a possibility and not a reality.
As she stood next to Mrs. Bennet watching Richard’s scarlet and Mr. Bennet’s inky backs recede across the floor, Eileen felt confused, a dislocation resulting from the sudden fracturing of that tenuous bond between two hearts. Only when Fanny gently threaded her arm through Eileen’s to guide her from the floor did she snap back into the present world. She heard Mrs. Bennet whispering, chatting her up in a casual way, as if the lady was seeking to cover Miss Nearne’s momentary loss of composure.
“Now, my girl, if I know those two, they will be gone for a few minutes, at least long enough to down a brandy and maybe puff upon a cigar.
“As for us, perhaps a glass of punch. I know it is not authentic, but Lizzy swears that this champagne punch is unlike anything you have ever enjoyed. T’is a mixture of fruit marinated in rum, ample champagne, and then sorbet is added at the end to make the most exquisite floating islands!”
Eventually the two ladies gravitated to the side of the floor to enjoy the cool air drifting in through terrace doors thrown open to give some relief to the crowds filling the room. Eileen had remained monosyllabic as Fanny prattled on, preferring to sip the fizzy rose-tinted concoction ever so carefully lest she dribble some on her sapphire gossamer gown.
Her attention was drawn to the woman at her side when the tone of the conversational flow altered. Speaking in a lowered voice, Fanny switched to the heart of that which had been central in Eileen’s thoughts.
“You, my darling girl, need to attend to me now. I never spoke thusly to any of my daughters for I was still far too foolish and had not yet found the strength to forgive myself for my fear.
“All too long, I urged the girls to give a man what he wanted. Of course, in our age, that usually meant that which he could only obtain from a virtuous girl after the vicar had done his work. So, I wanted the girls to advertise themselves in the most vulgar manners.
“Luckily both Jane and Lizzy refused to heed me. I doubt if Mr. Darcy would have had Lizzy if she had thrust her chest at him. Poor Bingley probably would have had an apoplexy if Jane had done anything so forward. Then again, Janie likely would have preceded him into the hereafter, expiring from embarrassment.
“What I have learned—and this is thanks to a good man who took the time to love me anew—is that all a man wants is nothing more nor less than the woman whom you truly are.
“Give him that ultimate gift, and he will hold that gem in his cupped hands, cherishing it for all his days.
“Expressing your love in this wholly honest manner will never play you false.”
Eileen tilted her head to the side, looking down at the lady quizzically, one question plaguing her.
She asked plaintively, “But, Mother Bennet, how will I know if he cares? I feel yearnings all the time, when I am with him and when I am not. He is friendly, to be sure, but how will I know if he feels more?
“I am so frightened to confront him. I worry that I will drive him away if I declare myself. We have so much baggage.”
Fanny looked up at her and quizzed, “You trust Richard, do you not?”
“With my life,” came back the firmest of declarations.
“Your life…and so you did once before back in 1945. From what you told me of your encounter on the cliffs, your body was not your own. Another was executing an awful compulsion. You were trapped inside: an observer.
“But, somehow, you found the power to thwart the attack.
“However, what you did could have led to your own death. You, though, did not care. His life was more important than yours. You were in love with him even then.
“And, at some level, Mr. Fitzwilliam knows that.
“You need to trust him to discover his feelings for you. I have no doubt that he is in love with you. Anyone watching him can see that he has been pierc’d by Cupid’s arrow,” Mrs. Bennet affirmed, “And, as with most matters of the heart, t’is up to the lady to force the issue.
“I am not suggesting that you march up to Richard like one of Mr. Wagner’s Valkyries. Rather, use the power of your presence, your silent presence, to inspire him to speak the truth scribed on his heart.”
“If the disciple John were writing of your beloved, the truth shall set him free.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Fanny espied a flash of scarlet moving past the ballroom’s entryway, heading toward the first set of doors leading out onto the terrace. Eileen was unaware of this as she was facing toward the refreshment table at the rear of the room.
Fanny counted to ten to allow the Colonel to begin to make his way down the darkened balcony. Then she suggested that Eileen accompany her outside for a bit of fresh air.
As she passed through the door onto the terrace and into the darkness, Eileen was propelled forward as Mrs. Bennet firmly planted a hand in her back and pushed. The French doors clicked shut, effectively cutting off any retreat. Eileen turned to see Mrs. Bennet’s shadow on the other side of the sheer drapes blocking any intrusions from the ballroom.
Taking a relaxing breath, Eileen stepped across the terrazzo deck toward the balustrade. Reaching that barrier, she planted both hands on it and lifted her face toward the starry dome arcing overhead.
The sound of approaching bootheels brought her chin back toward her chest.
“Yes, Mr. Fitzwilliam, t’is me,” she softly replied without moving.
Richard’s distinctive chuckle bounced off Netherfield’s high walls and echoed out over the manicured grounds, visible only in the imagination of those who had seen them in daylight. The sound sent happy tingles rioting up and down Eileen’s spine, but she kept her peace.
Fitzwilliam, nervous at her ongoing silence, moved to fill the gap, offering up an explanation for his laughter, “I do believe that we are simply pawns upon a rather large chessboard, being moved about by two grandmasters.
“Let me guess: Mrs. Bennet offered that you might wish to break the heat of the ballroom with a pass along the terrace.”
At this, Eileen dipped her head in assent, but again said nothing in reply.
After this second display of reticence to engage, Fitzwilliam was completely disequilibrated.
He stepped closer and, in a hushed tone, went to where men often go when the object of their affections goes quiet, “Miss Nearne, Eileen, what have I done? Are you angry with me? Please tell me so that I can make it right!”
His answer came when Eileen granted him a measure of mercy and turned his way, laving his troubled soul with the gentle waters of a loving look that soothed him without words. The Preacher, a man honored by his king for conspicuous valor, took courage from the warmth radiating from those sky-blue windows into her soul. The message was unmistakable.
He reached out and took both of her hands in his. A Mona Lisa smile lifted the corners of her lips.
Fitzwilliam cleared his throat and spoke, “My dearest Eileen Mary Nearne: allow me to pay my addresses to you using your full name. I have known you as Rose and then later as Dominique, Miss Smith, and, only just before you went away, as Miss Nearne.
“T’was not until my return that I knew who you were, Miss Eileen Mary Nearne of Glasgow.
“But, I thought t’was too late for me. You were lost, taken by the Germans. I devoured your file, but it read as a particularly sparse and sad biography, the ending known before the middle could be appreciated.
“I mourned you and tried to hide my sorrow in my churchwork in Stromness.
“Then came that remarkable…yes, do not look astonished, my dear…I said remarkable…day when you became the instrument of another’s bile. I have since learned that you did something extraordinary to alter the expected outcome.
“I tell you this, what that monster did not know was that he was facing the most powerful force in the universe: profound love, the type of love that transforms the lives of all it encounters.
“Mother Bennet has been muttering about agape, exagoras agapis, and synchotikí agape…the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Loves…spiritual love, redemptive love, and the love which forgives.
“I tell you this now, neither of us did not realize how and when we fell in love. Likely we were in the middle of it before we knew, but our love shaped that encounter on the path.
“You did what you could to redeem yourself, to become a better version of that poor tortured woman, usually so skillful with a blade. All because the essential core of you…your Eileen…would not harm me.
“And I, knew the same. Seeing the surprise in your eyes as you lay flat on your back before me. How easy t’would have been to throw you over the edge into the Atlantic below. But, I stayed my hand knowing that I could no more dispatch my love, my agape, than I could cut off my arm.
“Something inside told me that this was an awful trick, that the woman I knew would not suddenly strive to end me.”
Fitzwilliam paused as the horror of the memory passed through him, then he continued in the face of her widened eyes boring deeply into him, “I felt terribly guilty for a while; not for having struck you senseless, but rather from the irrational belief that you had been driven insane and were seeking your revenge upon me; that you blamed me for abandoning you to your fate at the hand of the Germans.
“Lord help me, but I found a perverse sense of relief in the deaths of my brother and his family. This showed me that your attack was part of a larger scheme, that you likely were an unwilling tool.
“Now, patience became a virtue as I waited for you to recover. How I rejoiced when you did the hard work of tracing the breadcrumbs back into the Swabian forest to that hillside bunker and the squad of black helmets. This was the proof that you were back with us!
“The past year, working in harness with you, sharing my waking and sleeping…someday I will tell you my dreams of you…moments with you, have been the happiest months of my life.
“I know I am a bit of a broken down old soldier and now, it appears, a failed churchman. But, I do have some prospects,” he added with a grin, “and we have our work which is important.
“Now, before I lose my courage, allow me to tell you that I cannot proceed in this existence without the assurance of knowing that your heart is as fully engaged, although I believe it to be so, as is mine. Please, Miss Nearne, Eileen, will you do me the honor of agreeing to marry me?”
The last was said in a great rush, leaving Fitzwilliam slightly red-faced and breathless.
Eileen’s hand lifted of its own accord, moving to his face to gently stroke his cheek. Tears pricked at the corners of her big, saucer-like, eyes. Her lips parted as a smile began to widen.
Her words dispelled any fear he had held, “Oh, Richard, you know my history, my weakness…”
He interrupted, “No, my love, your strength.”
Dipping her head, she said, “As you wish, sir, my strength.
“Yet, do not be mistaken. You, Richard Edward Fitzwilliam, were and are my strength. Before Rose emerged to take the burden of becoming your murderer, I held on to whatever shreds of sanity that escaped detection by taking solace in your rich steel grey eyes and comforting manner. You were that better place to which my mind fled to escape that concrete hell.
“I knew of your regard, your love, even if you did not. I had observed you closely in France. At some level, the Eileen I was retreated into the safety created by your presence, albeit imaginary.
“And, at this moment, I cannot imagine ever being away from the real Richard Fitzwilliam.”
Fitzwilliam dared to begin breathing as his world slipped into a different channel than that of just seconds before.
He wryly asked, “Is that a ‘yes,’ Miss Nearne? I have never asked for a woman’s hand before, but I have read of the proper forms. Once the gentleman has made his offer, the lady needs to reply—either in the affirmative, or the negative.
“I do hope that I managed to couch my appeal in a less offensive manner than one of our lateral ancestors. I am sure that, in your girlhood, you read Miss Austen’s account of Sir Fitzwilliam Darcy’s first proposal to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. I trust that I exceeded that standard.”
Eileen lifted a gloved had to stifle a giggle which burbled up from her trim midriff before replying with no less impertinence, “Oh, you and your reading; since you became Anubis Prime, you have buried your nose in musty report after moldy account. Now you bring up a biography that is 130 years old in your effort to win my hand!
“I heard about Darcy’s proposal to his Lizzy from her mother who got it from the lady herself. I assure you that Mrs. Bennet’s account was so much more colorful than anything the good lady from Steventon served up in those oh-so-proper times.
“You, however, offered a very pretty proposal, one which any woman, romantic or pragmatic, would receive with pleasure.
“And, thus, my Lord Viscount, my Colonel, my heart, I cannot do less than say ‘Yes, please’ to your proposal. I love you more than air itself.”
Fitzwilliam pulled her to him, celebrating their betrothal by capturing her lips with a kiss which deepened as the seconds passed. At some point, though, Richard could feel Eileen squirming in his arms.
He broke their tight clinch and moved back a few inches, far enough to look down at Eileen and ask with a friendly sarcasm, “Are you trying to run from me so soon? Are my attentions that distasteful?”
Eileen slapped the hilt of the Old General’s saber and archly replied, “I knew you were happy to hear my acceptance, but then I realized that t’was your sword poking me in the ribs!”
Fitzwilliam choked on his guffaw, “Oh-my-Gawd, Eileen, you minx! That line was ancient when Mae West used it.[i] Is this what I am to expect in the future?”
Further conversation was forestalled when Mrs. Bennet slowly opened the door leading back into the ballroom, her unspoken message was that it was past time for the couple to return and inform the multitude of their happiness.
After Mr. Bennet’s announcement of the betrothal of the Viscount and Miss Nearne, Fanny nestled into her husband’s arms as the band swung into the evening’s final number. The couple moved around the floor, confidently stepping as if they were Len Scrivener and Nellie Duggan in Blackpool’s Empress Ballroom, already assured of another Open trophy. In the year since their arrival, the Bennets had begun—contrary to Bennet’s earlier practice of avoiding large terpsichorean gatherings—a weekly habit of venturing out onto parquet expanses. While their efforts at some of the Latin dances were laughable—although both Tom and Fanny were the first to chuckle and giggle—their Viennese and traditional waltzes were acknowledged to be particularly compelling.
As Vera Lynn stepped up to the microphone to begin her wartime anthem, “We’ll Meet Again,” Mrs. Bennet sighed, loudly enough for her husband to lean back and peer into her eyes.
“Why so wistful, my dear?” Bennet asked, “You certainly have no cause to repine. Your ball is a grand success. You even provided your guests with a memorable highlight in the form of a betrothal between two young folks clearly in love.
“I can assure you, Fanny, that there were many a dampened hankie, so well-known and beloved are those two.”
Fanny replied, “Oh, I know I am being silly, Tom. However, I cannot shake the feeling that if I had been a different woman, you might have been making a similar announcement at Mr. Bingley’s ball all those years ago. But, I simply had to give voice to my imaginary relief and crudely counted my chickens well before they were hatched.”
“Mrs. Bennet! I protest!” Bennet bitterly interjected, “You cannot take all the blame upon your narrow shoulders!
“If I had been a better husband: if I had been a man who put his family’s future security first before the immediate convenience of a quiet bookroom, I would have eased your concerns by ensuring each of our girls was well-dowered.
“No, Fanny, I counted upon your meager portion to solve the problem, believing that as I would have left this mortal plane, none of its concerns would follow me into the hereafter.
“I was such a coward.”
The vehemence of his words struck her silent. Into that space, Vera Lynn’s rich alto added a philosophical undertone that changed Tom Bennet’s mood.
“Keep smiling through
Just like you always do
‘Til the blue skies
Drive the dark clouds far away”[ii]
Spinning his wife to arms-length and then bringing her back into hold, Bennet added with a smile that closed off his unhappy words, “Yet, Frances Lorinda, you always looked ahead, perhaps lamenting my indolence, but doing everything in your power to secure our daughter’s happiness. You were the eternal optimist preferring to nurture those delicate blossoms that populated our parlor.
“Me? I was content to repose, like a thorn amongst all those blooms which, I promise, included you.
“Understand this: blind as I might have been, you, Mrs. Bennet, were, are, and always will be my rose.”
[i] Attributed to a performance of Catherine the Great in 1944 where West quipped “Is that your sword or are you just happy to see me?” from Art Cohn, The Nine Lives of Michael Todd. (New York, Random House)1958. P 193. Accessed from https://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/08/20/glad-to-see/#note-7045-1 on 10/11/18.
[ii] We’ll Meet Again Lyrics and music by Hughie Charles and Ross Parker, 1939.