For so many reasons, we are addicted to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. We simply can’t have enough of their beautiful love story. So we dream up all manner of variations on the theme and take them to so many places. Derbyshire, Hertfordshire and London of course, but also to the Lake District, Yorkshire, Devonshire, Bath, the Isles of Scilly – even to revolutionary France.
As far as I know, they have never been to mainland Cornwall. This is where my latest novel takes them. There is great beauty in its rugged shores and secluded beaches, and the scenery is so romantic that it cannot fail to touch the heart.
And then there is the aura of mystery, the frisson of danger brought by age-old tales of smugglers, wreckers and pirates, which might add a new flavour to a beloved tale.
In The Falmouth Connection, I thought I’d add a dash of ‘cloak-and-dagger’, and yet not lose the romance of our favourite couple’s courtship dance. Will they? Won’t they? Of course, we all know that in the end they will. Regardless of the heartless obstacles often placed before them, Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy should not be forced to live their lives apart.
The story begins at Hunsford, around the time when Mr. Darcy decides to put an end to the battle between the head and the heart. He makes up his mind to propose to her – only to discover that she has just received a summons to travel to Falmouth and meet a great-aunt she never knew she had. So he would do well to find a moment to propose – and be quick about it! He has it all planned out and knows exactly what to say (and we all know precisely where that would lead him!)
To Darcy’s good fortune – although it really does not seem so to him at the time – his cousin gets an inkling about his intentions. And, as we would expect from the dear Colonel, he has some very decided opinions on the matter and he is not about to mince his words!
I love writing Colonel Fitzwilliam. I love writing the relationship he has with his cousin and the fact that he would never treat him with the quiet deference that Darcy effortlessly commands in others. The Colonel would have no scruples in holding him to account or in forcefully pointing out the flaws in his behaviour or judgement.
I know you love the dear Colonel as well, so I hope you will enjoy this little sample of the tough love he is always prepared to give Darcy.
The Falmouth Connection
(Excerpt from Chapter 1)
“So this is it then, the moment we have all been waiting for? Oh, Lady Catherine will be thrilled to hear it! She has been dropping you more than enough hints that it was high time you considered marriage.”
“Oh, hold your tongue!” Darcy retorted with a chuckle, then instantly sobered. “At least this swift departure serves a purpose, inconvenient as it turns out to be. I do not wish for Lady Catherine to be within fifty miles of her when everything is brought out into the open.”
“I am astonished you have managed to keep it under wraps so far, but I should imagine it was highly recommended. As soon as Collins is informed, then he can surely be trusted to let the cat out of the bag – or I should say, the tiger! Darcy, there is but one favour I would ask of you, in the name of all the scrapes I got you out of – ”
“You got me out? There was I thinking that the boot was on the other foot.”
“Regardless. Now, this favour. I will owe you for all eternity if you allow me to be in the room when you share your news with Lady Catherine!”
They could not fail to laugh at this like two errant schoolboys, then Darcy sobered once again.
“Much as I would wish to oblige you, I fear it cannot be done. As I just said, I will not speak now – and by the time I do, you will be with your regiment.”
“Damn! I quite forgot. How utterly vexing! You know how I detest being thwarted in my amusements – and to miss something as grand as this is a grievous disappointment. Nevertheless, I cannot really fault you for not wishing to provoke her while Miss Bennet is still at the parsonage.”
“Indeed. And I daresay that the established form is to speak to the young lady first, before informing all and sundry,” Darcy smiled.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Nothing out of the common way, Cousin, surely! You must agree that the proposal should come before the announcement.”
“Are you saying you have not proposed?”
“Not yet – I should have wished to do so before she leaves Kent, but – ”
“Your maddening self-assurance borders on arrogance, you know? Dash it, Darcy! I thought everything was settled.”
“It shall be, soon – unless you think she might refuse me?”
The ludicrous notion could not fail to make them smile.
“I would not go that far,” the Colonel retorted, “but do you not think you should have secured her hand before starting to crow over me about your triumph?”
“And so I would have – but you would persist in poking about in other people’s business.”
“Never mind that. Well? When will you speak out?”
“That, I know not. Miss Bennet is bound to call on the morrow to take her leave of Lady Catherine. I could offer to escort her back to the parsonage or, failing that, I could address her at some point during our journey – though I would have hoped for a better setting than the private parlour of a country inn.”
“Again, Darcy, if I did not know you better I would have thought you savour of too much self-assurance. What does the setting have to do with it?” the Colonel scoffed.
“I do not expect you to understand.”
“My coarse regimental manners offend your scruples, do they?” Fitzwilliam drawled, clearly not in earnest, nor in the least put out.
“You can say as much,” Darcy retorted, like-for-like, then quietly offered: “Do you not think the setting would matter to her?”
“Be that as it may, you have little choice – in Kent at least. What should it be? Lady Catherine’s drawing room? Her manicured garden? Or would you settle for the esteemed parson’s parlour?”
“Heaven forefend! No, I was holding hopes of a forest walk. Miss Bennet is quite partial to them.”
“So what was my role supposed to be in this affair? Escort Miss Lucas? Or hold the fort at the parsonage until your glorious return?”
“I have made no plans – which is just as well, for they would have had to be amended. I can only hope she would be willing to take a turn with me when we stop to bate the horses or something of that nature.”
“I shall do my best to orchestrate a moment – ”
“Cousin, I earnestly beg that you would not!”
“And why is that, pray? Have you no confidence in my strategic talents?”
“I have no desire to employ underhand manoeuvres, that is all.”
“I see. So I should not feign sleep then, as soon as her maid dozes off in earnest, by way of example…”
“You most certainly should not! If you imagine I would conduct my courtship within your earshot, Cousin, you are woefully mistaken!”
“I daresay you may be in the right – otherwise you would never hear the end of the matter,” Fitzwilliam ribbed, not unkindly, and the other laughed.
“Well, if I am allowed a suggestion,” the Colonel resumed, “you might wish to consider stopping at Seale, seeing as you are so particular about the setting. The views from the Hog’s Back are quite astounding, and you might go as far as thinking the village name auspicious, for sealing your fate.”
“And this is precisely why I have no wish to conduct my courtship in your hearing, Cousin. He who would pun would pick a pocket – not to mention that, even for you, that was a dreadful pun.”
“Oh, suit yourself,” Fitzwilliam shrugged. “Just do not come begging for assistance when the fount of wisdom is closed and out of reach.”
“Need I remind you that founts do not close, Fitzwilliam? Nay, they dry up – if there ever was anything in them in the first place.”
“As I said, suit yourself. You are an ungrateful wretch but still, blood is thicker than water so I suppose I should wish you well. Have you prepared your speech? Of course – what am I saying! I forgot whom I was talking to. You had it all written down and memorised, I should imagine. For your sake, I hope you did not leave it lying around for Lady Catherine’s maids to find it. On the other hand, if you were wise enough to leave out the lady’s name, then we shall have a gleeful dinner companion in our aunt for once, which is just as well.”
“Fear not, Cousin, I am not quite so staid as to write down my speech and memorise it. I should imagine Mr. Collins was likely to resort to that. There are a few salient points which cannot be omitted but otherwise I believe I could be trusted to go ad libitum without mishap, once I have assured her that my affections are not the work of a moment.”
“No one who knows you can ever assume that any of your decisions are the work of a moment – least of all one as momentous as that.”
“To own the truth, Fitzwilliam, I cannot vouch for how well-acquainted Miss Bennet might have grown with my – ”
“Pray tell me you have given yourself the trouble to talk to the lady, Darcy!” the Colonel interjected with something like affectionate exasperation. “A fair amount more than you did in Kent, I would dearly like to hope.”
“If you were expecting yet another tale of love performing miracles, Cousin, and altering everybody’s ways – ”
Before he could finish, Fitzwilliam groaned.
“So you have stood tongue-tied throughout! I thought as much. Thank goodness you are handsome, Darcy, and a man of means,” he remarked, only partly in jest, and at that his cousin violently bristled.
“She would not accept me for either of those reasons!”
“What for, then? Your cheerful and easy conversation? Your smooth ability to please? Your dancing skills and your propensity to use them?”
“Fitzwilliam, are you purposely determined to be vexing or is it merely one of your many inborn talents?”
“Never mind mine – we were discussing yours.”
“I have no notion why you would seek to undermine my confidence, but you shall not succeed. She will understand. Once I have explained how I have fought to overcome my scruples as regards our union – ”
The Colonel’s head turned sharply at that.
“Once you have explained what exactly, pray?”
“Had you but met them all, you would already know. Miss Bennet’s connections are not the sort you might expect, Fitzwilliam. She is of course a gentleman’s daughter, but her mother’s relations are objectionable in the extreme. A country-town attorney and a London merchant and, as though the lack of fortune and connection was not bad enough, her mother and younger sisters are uniformly bent on deporting themselves with no propriety whatever! As for the parson, you have seen him. She cannot fail to understand that only the utmost force of passion could have overcome such weighty objections to our marriage. You know as well as I do that, in your father’s eyes and Lady Catherine’s, this union is nothing but a severe degradation, yet it matters not! Now that you are acquainted with her, I trust you will agree that Miss Bennet is worthy of any sacrifice.”
“Heaven help us!” the Colonel muttered in lieu of any other answer and suddenly reached to grab his cousin’s arm.
“What the deuce are you about, Fitzwilliam?” Darcy blustered, snatching his elbow from his cousin’s grasp.
“We are already on Lady Catherine’s doorstep,” the Colonel pointed out and the other looked up to see that he was in the right.
The garden entrance was a stone’s throw before them but Darcy failed to see anything ominous in that.
Nothing more ominous than the usual, that is, he inwardly amended, then lost no time in observing as much.
“It seems we are in dire need of a serious conversation and if you imagine it could be held at Rosings, then you are a greater fool than I think you at present. And believe me, that is no mean feat, at this point in time.”
“What the devil are you speaking of?” Darcy impatiently inquired, but had the good sense to follow his cousin’s advice and abandon the gravelled walk to Rosings in favour of a narrow path that led towards the woods, along a very tall yew hedge, uniformly straight and very neatly cut.
“Come with me! I have a great need to rave at you at my leisure and I do not wish to have to choose my words or keep my voice down,” the Colonel forcefully retorted and was silent, until the path took them beyond the park paling, at which point he spun around. “I can only hope I have misunderstood,” he suddenly began. “Pray tell me you were not about to make the litany of Miss Bennet’s unsuitable relations the salient point of your marriage proposal!”
He did not wait to have the answer couched in so many words but, having read it in his cousin’s countenance, the Colonel threw his arms in the air.
“Of all the asinine – nay, idiotic notions! Darcy, have you utterly lost your mind? What sort of a courtship, what sort of a proposal is this, that begins with insulting your ladylove and all that she holds dear? You think she is beneath you? Then do not propose! Go and marry elsewhere or turn into a hermit, but do not imagine this is the way to win her heart!”
“I have no wish to either marry elsewhere or turn into a hermit, for that matter. Besides, I already have her heart.”
“Oh, you do, do you? What makes you so certain?”
“You would not understand. You were not party to our conversations – ”
“I was party to a number, over the past fortnight. There is a chance that you might have her interest, though I cannot imagine how the deuce you managed to secure it if all you ever did was in the vein of what I have witnessed. But be that as it may. Let us say you do have her interest. God’s teeth, let us say you also have her heart! How long do you imagine you can keep them, if your notion of lovemaking is to shower her in your contempt?”
“Contempt? For her? Fitzwilliam, you are so far off the mark I could almost laugh. Sadly, I do not find it in the least diverting!”
“Off the mark, am I? Is it not contempt to say that she has no fortune, no connection, her mother and sisters are a mortifying nuisance and her cousin is a fool?”
“It has no bearing on her! I do not choose to marry her because of them, but despite them.”
At that, the Colonel’s hands came forcefully together in loud mock applause.
“Oh, Darcy, how magnanimous of you!”
“What on earth is that supposed to mean?”
“You are a man of reasonable understanding, Cousin. Can you not exert yourself and imagine Miss Bennet’s reaction, when the one who has raised her interest and affection marches in to tell her that although her world is beneath contempt, in his condescension he will have the generosity to overlook it? Do you honesty expect her gratitude for that?”
“You twist my words. I am not Lady Catherine!”
“Then why do you choose to sound so much like her?”
Darcy scowled at that, then gave a swift and dismissive wave.
“There is no use in speaking to you when this mood is upon you, that I know of old. You will excuse me, Cousin, there is a journey to Portsmouth I should be arranging.”
“Have it your way, then! Oh, by all means, go. Go and propose to her by listing all her failings and see what good it does you. Do not imagine though that I shall spare you the ‘I told you so’!”
Whether the goading was deliberate or not, it served its purpose. Darcy turned back, his fists tightly clenched.
“Firstly,” he enunciated, “her circumstances of birth, fortune and connection are not her failings, but her sheer misfortune. Secondly, it is in no way a concern of yours. Thirdly, should it have been, I would have dearly loved to see you practise what you preach. Welcome Mr. Collins with open arms. Be proud to introduce the country-town attorney and his coarse wife as your new relations. Delight in having Mrs. Bennet drink tea with our aunt – or indeed your parents. Come now, Fitzwilliam! Is this truly what you would have done?”
“I would certainly not have shown such blatant lack of consideration towards the woman I professed to love! Nor would I have set about to hurt her feelings in the midst of my proposal,” the Colonel shot back.
“I have not set about to hurt her feelings!” Darcy defensively replied, only to be rewarded with a derisive snort.
“In that case, you either are unable to comprehend human interactions, or you are the greatest fool in Christendom!” Fitzwilliam forcefully retorted. “Honestly, Darcy, must it be spelled out? Do you not think she cares for the people you are about to scorn? She may not like them, she may not approve of their conduct, but they are her nearest and dearest, her family, for goodness’ sake! What purpose does it serve to denigrate them in the same breath as offering for her?”
“I have already told you: it serves to show that my choice to offer for her is not a whim, but a hard-won decision.”
“For which she should be grateful until her dying day? Is that the sort of marriage you aspire to?”
“Of course not!” Darcy bristled.
“Then what do you envisage?”
His brow raised in unconcealed contempt, his cousin scoffed:
“You have met her. Spoken to her – more than I have, you claim. If you have not seen it yet, I shall not waste my breath to make you see it now!”
The Colonel rolled his eyes.
“I am asking what you are seeing, you pompous know-it-all.”
More than a little stung and at the limits of his patience, Darcy burst out:
“What gives you the impression you have the right to ask, or that I would bare my soul to you? Today of all days, when you have been nothing but a nuisance?”
To his surprise, his abrasive retort did not provoke his cousin into another verbal lashing. He did not even seem offended, but merely smiled as though confronted with the antics of a misbehaving child.
“Fair enough,” he conceded at length, without rancour. “Still, by my way of thinking, rather than abusing her relations, you might do well to bare your soul to her.”
* * * *
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed it! There is a giveaway of an ebook available internationally, so please leave a comment for a chance win.
Many thanks, Maria Grazia, for having me as your guest, it’s always such a pleasure to be here!
Amazon links: Books by Joana Starnes