After months of struggling to write, I started a new story. You will find the first chapter below. Keep in mind this is a draft. It’s subject to change and may contain errors.
But one reason I wanted to share this excerpt with you is that it mentions indigo. When I wrote about this flower, I decided to verify it was used to dye clothing during the period in which the story is set. In the process of looking into this, I ran across an interesting factoid.
Did you know that purple is considered the color of Royals because purple dye was so expensive to make? Until 1856, dyes were made using natural ingredients. People tried to mix blue (indigo) and red (crushed beetle shells) to create purple dyes, but for a true purple, there was only one source. For thousands of years, purple dye was created by harvesting and drying the glands of sea snails. To make one gram of powdered purple dye requires 120 pounds of snails. Now, a gram of this powder is only enough to color a single shirt sleeve, so you can imagine how much work it is to make a pure purple garment. That is why, for most of history, purple cloth was used only to trim or provide an accent for garments.
In 1856, an 18-year old named William Perkins was attempting to synthesize quinine from coal tar. Quinine is a drug used to treat malaria. Quinine is naturally derived from the bark of cinchona trees. These trees are not native to Europe, but coal tar is. Well, Perkins failed to create quinine, but he accidentally created aniline purple, or mauve, which became the first synthetic dye.
Anyway, I never know what off-the-wall trivia I’ll end up learning about when I research a topic for a book. It is one of my favorite things about writing historical fiction. Of course, I usually end up researching the stuff readers would never have noticed. At the same time, I leave in things that might be unusual. For instance, gift-giving at Christmas was not a widely held practice until the Victorian Era—but in the passage below, I decided my Darcy was given gifts as a boy. It’s not an anachronism, but it can leave some readers with the impression I don’t do any research. Oh, the irony.
The sun pierced the panes of glass, turning the small office into an oven. Darcy took a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his forehead. It was not yet noon, but his shirt was soaked through.
He tried to focus on the ledgers before him but found it was challenging to concentrate while being roasted alive. As was so often the case, he found his gaze wandered to an ornate wooden frame that hung on the wall opposite his desk. If he used his imagination, he could nearly make himself believe it was just another window, only this scene was entirely different from the world in which he now found himself.
The painting had been commissioned several generations earlier, and though it could have fetched a handsome sum, it was one of the few items Darcy had refused to part with. It featured a footpath he knew well. The path, which ran through the dense English woods, was protected by a treetop canopy so thick the sun was kept at bay in the summer, and during the winter, only the strongest of rainstorms could soak those who strolled underneath. Despite being several thousand miles away, there was one fact Darcy was certain of. At this exact moment in time, that path was deliciously cool.
He ran a finger around his shirt collar and pulled on his cravat. It wasn’t any use. Even if he could channel fresh air toward his skin, it was too humid and stifling to provide relief.
His heart ached as he studied the painting. With a mix of reluctance and wistfulness, he looked to the far corner of the frame. He clenched his fists, hoping that the pain of his fingernails digging into his flesh would be sufficient to distract him from the emotional turmoil he’d grown to expect. For a moment. He studied the perfectly rendered palace on top of a vibrant green hill. Pemberley—his ancestral home.
He bit his lip, took hold of a letter that sat in the corner of his desk and let go of his thoughts of light breezes, green fields, and cold rain. It was too painful to think of what he’d lost. He’d be far better off focusing his energies on rebuilding something new.
He sighed. He had already built something new. But this business, this life—it was not the final chapter. It was merely a means to an end. Someday, he would slip back into a semblance of his prior life. That is, if such a thing was possible—and oh, how he prayed it was.
He leaned back in his chair and gazed out the window. His fingertips ran among the edge of the letter. His mind did not notice the rough texture of the stationary, nor did his eyes register the vivid scene unfolding outside. His mind was occupied—retracing his journey, searching for missteps.
He had been careful when he’d discovered his father’s debts. The family name had remained intact and free of scandal. Of this, he was sure. Everyone, including his dear sister Georgiana, believed he’d left England for a grand tour. He’d entrusted his correspondence to the captains of his ships. They had carried his letters to far-off cities along their trade routes. From there, his letters had been sent—creating the illusion that he was indeed traveling. When he returned to England, he would be a wealthy man. There was no reason his misfortune should be discovered. And why would anyone suspect he’d engaged in trade? He could slip back into society as if nothing had happened. His plan was without fault—except for Pemberley.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Sharp rasps echoed through the office. Darcy looked up with anticipation. It was Alistair’s signature knock. Darcy knew better than to get his hopes up. Although Alistair’s would be the first to receive word of their last shipment, the mail was frequently delayed. In all likelihood, his partner just wanted to report the latest payroll figures, or ask if he’d read the news about the rising price of indigo. But knowing a thing and controlling one’s emotions are two very different skills. Despite all rationale, Darcy felt like a young child descending the stairs on Christmas morning.
It was an all too familiar sensation. For a week, he had repeated this routine—Alistair would arrive and Darcy’s heart would race; then Alistair would shake his head and Darcy would imagine the worst.
“Come in,” he called.
A gentleman a few years Darcy’s senior entered.
“It’s here,” he said in a level tone. He carried a missive in his hand, but his expression was unreadable.
“Well?” Darcy huffed. “Did you open it?”
“Yes. Of course.”
The response lacked any emotion and was infuriating. Darcy could feel his blood turn to ice as fear took hold of him. He had faced financial ruin. The loss of a single shipment would be nothing by comparison. Still, he was this close to achieving his goals. Further, he had changed greatly since leaving England. Having tirelessly worked to earn every penny, Darcy had developed a new appreciation for money. Now, its loss was more accurately felt.
Darcy could not hide his trepidation. “And? What did he say? Did the shipment arrive?”
Alistair’s lips curled into a smile. “Not only did it arrive, but Gardiner was also able to find buyers willing to pay double what we expected. It seems our silks have been a sensation amongst the ton.”
He handed Darcy the letter. Darcy took it with trembling fingers. He scanned the contents. His breath caught at the sum their London partner had negotiated.
Three long years he had toiled in India, withering under its blistering sun. It should have taken him at least five years to achieve his goal—but this—this had changed everything. His debts had been repaid, and at long last, his fortune was largely restored.
He lifted his head. “Alistair, could you can run the Indian office alone?”
Alistair scoffed. “Are you questioning my abilities?”
“Not at all.” Darcy pulled open a drawer of his desk and withdrew an appointment calendar. “I was considering returning to England. I recognize that my departure would place an additional burden on you and…”
With a wave of a hand, Darcy was cut off. “Nonsense. Things may have been chaotic when we first opened the shop, but now the place is running like a well-oiled machine. If I hire a part-time bookkeeper, I should be able to manage. Besides, hard work is good for the spirits.”
Darcy flipped the pages of his calendar, searching the entries to discover if any of the ships in his fleet had scheduled a voyage to England. Alistair leaned across the desk and patted him on the shoulder.
“And don’t think I haven’t noticed. You have steadily grown more dreary over the years. Can’t say that I blame you. You must be anxious to get home to your betrothed.”
Darcy frowned. He’d been mistaken. Not all of his debts were repaid.
It wasn’t that he’d forgotten about his promise, he had simply assumed that no lady would actually wait so long for his return.
I shouldn’t have underestimated her. She is determined.
She would insist on a grand affair—it was her way—yet his time as a bachelor was limited. She was capable of organizing everything she needed by the time the final banns were read. He’d be lucky to get two more months of freedom. A knot formed in his stomach. He ignored it.
Three years can alter a person. I have certainly changed. Perhaps, she has as well.
Darcy cleared his throat and muttered something that Alistair took as confirmation of his enthusiasm to return to his fiancée.
“So you will go straight to Hertfordshire then? To see the little lady?”
“Um, no. I will need to spend a few weeks in London, first. I need to make some arrangements with Gardiner and I wish to check in on my sister.”
Alistair raised an eyebrow. “You are going to spend time with Gardiner?” He shook his head. “All these years you’ve forbidden me from mentioning your name. You were adamant that no one in London discover you were involved in trade. And now you’re going to march right up to our distributor and introduce yourself?”
Darcy looked up from his calendar. Lifting one edge of his lips, he said, “Actually, I am going to introduce myself as your younger brother and partner. Originally, I assumed I’d sell my shares in the company after I returned to England, but we’ve built this all from nothing. It’s something I’m proud of, and I’m not willing to just walk away from it. Fitzwilliam Darcy cannot engage in trade, but William Turner can.”
“I see. You don’t need to sell your share or create a ruse. You can be a silent partner. Then you wouldn’t need to worry about soiling your reputation,” Alistair suggested.
“No,” Darcy said firmly. “We employ hundreds of men and I have a responsibility to them—we both do. I may not be able to be as involved as I have been, but I want to keep my hand in things. If I only engage in business under the guise of your younger brother, I think I can.” He returned his attention to his schedule. His finger ran down the right page and then the left. Once it reached the bottom, he turned the page.
Alistair snorted. “And what will you say the first time you encounter Gardiner at a society ball, or you cross paths at the theater?”
“I doubt there will be any such encounters. I do not enjoy London society. I will soon retire to the country. And, as you say, I will soon be wed. Although this limits my need to socialize, I concede that my sister is coming out next season. Obviously, I will accompany her to dances and recitals. But since she will only be attending events limited to those in the first circle, I should not encounter any business associates. If she wishes to attend the theater or go riding in the park, my cousin or wife will accompany her.” Darcy reached across his desk and removed his quill from the ink well. He circled a date in his book.
“Then you will be a hermit the rest of your life? You’ll only attend private affairs or accept invitations from those you most disdain?”
Darcy lifted his head. “Once Georgiana is matched, I will no longer care what the ton thinks of me personally. This charade should last no more than two years.” He tapped the book. “A ship is leaving in four weeks, and I intend to be on it. Can you write to Gardiner and tell him to expect me?”
“But of course, dear brother.” Alistair smirked. “You know mother would have my hide if I let you down.”