My original plan for this month was to give you an excerpt from my next novella and show the cover. Unfortunately, life stepped in to destroy those plans. I’ve battled a few health problems and my border collie pup is suffering from a three week bout of severe diarrhea. I think that covers everything, other than the EF-2 tornado that hit the city a week ago Monday. It tore up or destroyed a lot of the important infrastructure and left my wife and me without power overnight, but we were some of the lucky ones. Other than some inconvenience, we cruised through the disruptions fairly well. The city looks like a disaster zone and things like public transit are restricted but I can still take my walks in the parks, if I avoid the parts they’ve closed because of the trees that were ripped up by their roots.
I’d like to blame my tardiness on that, but the truth is I’ve also been lazy and struggling with my own version of writer’s block. I still have the excerpt, although it is raw and unedited, but it will give you a taste of what to expect from the next novella in my Elizabeth Said, Darcy Said series. This story concerns the first time Elizabeth meets Wickham on the streets of Meryton, and subsequent events that flow from that encounter.
The excerpt begins in Longbourn’s garden. Mr. Bennet wants to know where Lydia has gone, despite being restricted to the estate. Kitty has confessed Lydia used her to fool their father into believing she was present, and Mr. Bennet is angry enough that he is going to Meryton to find Lydia and give her a public whipping. Elizabeth goes instead, but what they find when they get to town is far worse than anything she expected.
“I will bring her back,” Elizabeth stated, “one way or another. And I will have Jane there to help me. Together we will find her.”
“I don’t know,” Mr. Bennet said, resting his chin on his hand as if unconvinced. “I’m not sure I want to give up my plan. It took me a few minutes to come up with, and I think it would be a shame to abandon.”
“What plan?” Elizabeth asked, unsure if it was wise to ask the question. Her father’s humor seemed to be returning, so he might say anything to get a rise out of her or Jane.
“I was going to cut a willow switch and use it on her, then throw her in the carriage for the return to Longbourn. She might cry and complain all the way back, but it would be worth hearing.”
“Why do you want to do something like that?” she asked. This did not sound like something her father was saying to tease her. He might actually be thinking of punishing her in public.
“She has caused me a lot of problems since she came out, and I am tired of the constant humiliation. I am a laughingstock in town. Everyone thinks I have no control over Lydia, and embarrassing situations like this only serve to strengthen that opinion. Maybe if I humiliate her with a public whipping, she will have second thoughts the next time she wants to disobey me.”
“May I propose a compromise?” Elizabeth said. While she thought Lydia deserved to be severely punished, that was going too far.
“You may, but I may not listen,” Mr. Bennet said, his arms crossed again as he waited for her to speak.
Elizabeth looked her father directly in the eyes as she prepared to offer her idea. Mr. Bennet had to believe that the proposal had some merit, or he would go ahead and take a switch to Lydia, an idea she knew had just occurred to him. Although it was recent, he might still decide it was preferable to anything she tried to convince him was better.
“Let us bring her back so you can whip her in front of the family. If public humiliation is that important, let Mr. and Mrs. Hill watch. That must be better than letting the entire town witness you beat her.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think a lot of people will congratulate me for finally doing something I should have a two or three years ago. My one fear is that it is too late for her to change, although that will not ruin my enjoyment in teaching her a lesson.”
“No Papa,” Elizabeth said, “that is not the way. Jane and I will go fetch her, and you can deal with her when you are calm.”
Turning to Jane, she said, “Put your walking shoes on. I want to leave within the next ten minutes.”
“You can take the carriage,” Mr. Bennet said as Jane walked toward the house. “I was going to use it to chase Lydia all over Meryton, so it is waiting for me. Tie Lydia to the roof if you must and get her back home. In fact, tie her to the roof anyway. She needs a little less comfort in her life.”
Jane ran from the house as Elizabeth was discussing the ride with the driver, her walking shoes on her feet and a shawl wrapped around her shoulders.
When she was safely in the cabin Elizabeth joined her and the carriage set off for Meryton.
“I hope we can find her without too much trouble,” Jane said as the driver urged the horses to a trot. A pace that quick could not be sustained over a distance, but the town was close, and the driver understood the urgency of Elizabeth’s errand. He was not in favor of abusing the animals, but this was important enough that he was willing to push the animals, at least on the journey to Meryton. The ride back, she had explained to him, could be done at a leisurely pace, a compromise he could live with.
“Do you think she will agree to come home with us?” she asked when Elizabeth did not reply. “I don’t want to fight with her.”
“She will come with us, or I will have the driver do what Papa suggested,” was Elizabeth’s firm answer. “I have explained the situation to him and, while he does not want to get involved in a family dispute, he is aware of the trouble she has caused in the past. If we need him, he has assured me he will help.”
“Now all we have to do is find her,” Jane mused as they entered the town. “And that might be a problem all by itself.”
“I somehow doubt that,” Elizabeth replied, pointing to a crowd gathered halfway up the street. “My guess is she is somewhere in that crowd. Let’s find her and drag her back to the carriage.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Jane remarked, her brows creased with worry and a frown dragging the ends of her mouth down.
Elizabeth rapped on the cabin roof to attract the driver’s attention and directed him toward the group of people spilling into the street. As they neared the crowd, she heard a voice screaming in panic.
“You killed him!” Elizabeth heard, shocked to realize it was Lydia’s voice making the accusation.
“Stop here,” she called to the driver and, as soon as the carriage was still, she had the door open. Leaping from the vehicle, she ran toward the front of the crowd, using her elbows and hands to push people out of her way.
“You killed him!” Lydia said again, her shout echoing off the walls of the surrounding buildings as Elizabeth came around the corner to find a scene that stopped her in her tracks.
Mr. Wickham lay flat on his back on the ground. She did not know if he was still breathing, although she saw no blood on his person, or collecting on the ground under him. She saw Mr. Darcy struggling to free himself from Mr. Bingley, who had him restrained against a wall, albeit temporarily, as his strength looked like it was failing him.
“Somebody help him,” she yelled to the nearest men and pointed to Mr. Bingley, who appeared as though he was ready to collapse. “Hurry,” she called as Mr. Darcy broke free of his friend’s grip and moved toward Mr. Wickham again.
“You’re a dead man,” he declared, advancing on his prostrate victim. “If I ever see you again, I’ll finish what I started. This ends here, either for you or for me, I don’t care.”
Has Mr. Darcy lost his mind? Has he finally snapped and decided to get his revenge on the man for what he tried with Georgiana? And what about Lydia’s sister Emily and the dungeon under Longbourn? Those answers are waiting for you in Miss Elizabeth Faces Wickham, which I am editing now. With a bit of luck I’ll have it out in a week or two. It’s companion, Mr. Darcy Faces Wickham, will follow shortly after. I hope.
If you are wondering about the image at the top of the page, it is a look along one of the roads affected by the tornado. A lot of the power poles along this street, and many others in the area, were snapped like matchsticks and thrown into the surrounding fields. Halfway up the road is a vehicle trapped under live wires, and it was far from the only one. More than one of the cars could not be freed until the next day because there was just too much destruction and damage to be cleared away before emergency crews could even think about rescuing them. To their credit, they listened to instructions and remained in their vehicles, where it was safe. It’s amazing what Mother Nature can do when she puts her mind to something.