I had, originally, planned to make some grand announcement today about my new novel, Much Ado in Meryton. I was going to show off my cover and proudly proclaim a release date not so far in the future, and give you a tasty excerpt to enjoy.
But the fates had other plans. Namely, my computer started giving me grief, and then suddenly, it just died on me. I was in the middle of a conference call and it just stopped. After a full day of futile attempts at restoring it and rebooting it, I gave up and took the sad carcass to the Geek Squad in hopes of some form of technical resuscitation of my files, if not resurrection of the machine itself. It had also long been time to replace that slowly dying machine, and so I am now the proud owner of a shiny new laptop.
Alas, all of this has taken so much of my time and energy that my poor novel has been quite neglected. It is safe, thanks to backups and the cloud, but it is also not as close to completion as I had hoped. If all goes well, next month I will have all sorts of news on that front.
But in the meantime, my trials and tribulations got me thinking. Today we have computer woes to complain about and that hamper our productivity. What technical issues might have bothered our Regency-era friends? Here’s a little story for you.
Hunsford, Easter time, 1812
The door slammed behind Fitzwilliam Darcy as he blew into his bedchamber like a gathering storm. Thunder all but followed him into the room, and a frisson not unlike lightning crackled at the edges of his sight. The ewer on his washstand rattled in its place, and the windowpanes shook in their frames.
“Damned impertinent, headstrong girl!” he growled to the draperies. “Thankless, heartless… beautiful Elizabeth.” Fury and pain fought for supremacy in his heart and he collapsed into the large chair by the fire. She had refused him! Refused his offer of marriage! And not kindly either, but with angry words and a torrent of abuse that had rattled the foundation of his being. She ought to be grateful that he had lowered himself so much as to consider her, but instead of words of love and appreciation of his condescension, she had enumerated his every failing and fault, and had in turn accused him of a great many wrongs, some true and some quite mistaken. Did she really believe Wickham? Did she honestly take that man’s word over his own? Could she have so mistaken his good character in favour of the scoundrel’s lies?
The pain of rejection began to fade as the fury grew stronger. He could not let this lie. He must defend himself. He could think of only one way. A letter!
He pulled himself upright and stomped over to the writing desk by the window. His head hurt. His back ached. His throat was as dry as dust. He went to the pitcher to pour himself a glass of water and then sat down to compose his letter.
“Sir?” His valet appeared in the doorway. “May I be of assistance?”
Blast the man. Monroe was an excellent valet, always at hand, and with a fine talent for cravats, but at this moment Darcy wanted nothing more than to be alone. Well, perhaps a cup of coffee would help. He could send Monroe to the kitchens and achieve both aims at once.
He swung around to make his request, but in his agitation his elbow struck the full glass of water, knocking it over and spilling the contents all over the desk. The paper was soaked.
“Allow me, sir.” Monroe was at hand in a moment, but the damage was done. The entire short stack of fine paper was a ruin. It would dry in time, and Aunt Catherine could easily afford more, but he needed paper, and needed it now.
Darcy shoved back from the desk to stand. Something cold trickled down his leg. Blast it again. He had spilled some of the water on his trousers. And these were his good ones too, that he had worn specially to make a good impression on Elizabeth as he offered her more than she ever ought to expect. The cold water ran down his leg and into his boot.
“Coffee. I shall be in the library. I must attend to some correspondence at once.”
Without bothering to change, Darcy stormed through the hallways of the great house. The library was on the far side of the courtyard to the rooms where his aunt was entertaining her guests, that silly parson and his plain and too-sensible wife, with his cousins at her side. They would not hear him here. He could write his rebuttal in peace.
He found a new stack of paper and took it over to the large table. What now? The lamp would not light. His candle would never give sufficient light for what needed to do. He tried the flint again, but the wick would not light. The oil reservoir must be empty. He would ask Monroe to attend to it when he arrived with the coffee. He sighed and picked up the brass lamp.
Was that something inside, blocking the oil from reaching the wick? As he moved, the glass chimney shifted from its collar. Somebody had not secured it properly! Some silly maid, or… oh no! There had been oil in the lantern after all. His sleeves were covered in the viscous and foul-smelling substance, and irrevocably stained as well, he suspected. He groaned and ran a hand through his hair…
Oh blast and damnation. He had oil on his hand as well, and now his hair was a slimy, smelly mess. He groaned. Well, there was nothing to it, but to go on with his task. He could change later.
He managed to light the oil lamp and settled into his chair. That top sheet of paper would have to do as a towel. He wiped his hands on it until they were as clean as he could manage, and then reached for the ink well. There were some quills in the drawer, and a knife, and he set about fixing a pen.
Now he could set his mind to his task. “Be not alarmed, madam,” he wrote, the fury somewhat dampened by the water stains on his trousers and oil on his coat sleeves. He wrote in anger at first, and then with more care and deliberation. He must acquit himself of these baseless accusations, or at least explain his actions. Could Jane Bennet really care for his friend Bingley? Had he been wrong? Unthinkable… and yet…
He completed his first draft. There, in black and white, he laid out his every dealing with that cur Wickham, and even divulged the sorry story of his sister’s involvement with that accursed man. Surely Elizabeth must believe him now. The anger had faded and become resignation and fatigue. He would find a way to get the letter into her hands. But first he must write out a good copy. This one, covered in notes and crossed out words and phrases, the letters so rushed as to be almost illegible, would never do.
He reached for more paper.
“Your coffee, sir.” Monroe stood at the door with a silver tray in his hands.
“Yes, put it on the table. I shall manage.” The valet did as requested and disappeared into the dark hallways. Darcy stood and massaged the back of his neck, which had grown stiff as he wrote. What…? Oh blast. More oil, now on his neck and his cravat. He should just remove his neckcloth, but he was a gentleman, the grandson of an earl, and could never be seen in such deshabille outside of his personal rooms. He would wash later.
He poured his coffee and raised the delicate china up to his lips.
“I forgot to say, sir, your cousin is looking for you.”
Monroe appeared from nowhere. Caught unaware, Darcy’s hand jerked and coffee sloshed over the side of the cup and down the cravat he still wore. He let out another groan, unsure whether he was more upset about the new stain or the loss of the precious black liquid. His eyes fluttered closed and he sighed.
At last, somewhat fortified with the remainder of the coffee, he returned to the desk to write out a good copy of his letter. His pen was quite worn down, and he must repair it before attempting to write anything he would show to another. He found the knife again and set to work.
The knife slipped, stabbing into his thumb. He let out a yelp.
“Damn you, Richard!” Of all the moments for his cousin to appear, why this one?
“Good God, Darce, you’re bleeding. It looks bad.”
Darcy looked down at his thumb. Richard was right. This was not small nick, but a rather serious cut. He stared at the welling blood, his mind quite unable to determine what to do about it.
In a moment Richard was at his side. “Here, your handkerchief. Let me wrap it for you.” Yes, as a military man, Richard knew how to deal with minor wounds. He took Darcy’s handkerchief from his pocket and tore off a strip, which he wrapped around the bleeding digit. “That should hold. I’ll find Monroe and call for some bandages.”
“No, please do not. This will suffice. I must finish this letter in peace.”
His cousin’s eyebrows rose.
“It is… That is… Never mind. Just leave me in peace.”
“If you wish. But do look after that thumb, Darcy. The blood is seeping through the cloth already.’
Darcy sighed again and wiped his forehead. “Very well.”
He managed to repair the pen and then went to refill the empty ink well with his still greasy fingers, just as a spark from his still-burning candle touched the oily paper he had pushed aside.
Several hours later, Elizabeth Bennet was walking through the paths by Rosings when a figure approached her from a grove, holding out something in his hand that looked like a letter.
Her voice must have betrayed her shock. Never had she seen him like this. Gone was the perfectly attired, assured, and arrogant man. This creature who stood before her was almost pathetic. His trousers had a water stain that dripped all down one leg (not that a lady ever looked at a gentleman’s legs, ever), and his coat sleeves seemed dark at the cuffs. Was he wearing the same clothing as the previous evening, when he had so insulted her with his pathetic proposal? Had he not slept? It seemed not. His eyes were heavy and shadowed, and the shadow of an unshaved beard traced his jaw. There was something on his cravat – was it coffee? – and smudges of blood and grease decorated his brow. But the large ink stains on his shirt cuffs and collar, the burned fabric of his waistcoat, and the soot marks down his cheeks, were the most remarkable of all these imperfections. What on earth had happened? For a moment, she felt a twinge of… sympathy?
“I have been walking in the grove some time in the hope of meeting you. Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?” His voice, usually so haughty and refined, shook, and she wondered if he were fit enough to stand.
She took the letter out of instinct, but then stopped. “Are you well, sir?”
He wavered in place. “I am…” he stumbled.
Elizabeth reached out an arm to catch him before he lost his balance, and the letter fell from her hand. A gust of wind caught the envelope and blew it away in the direction of the stream, where it sank into the bubbling waters.
“Oh no!” Now she was alarmed. Mr. Darcy had gone white. Was he going to swoon?
“Come and sit, sir. And while we are seated, perhaps you can tell me what was in that note that you seemed to have to great trouble to write to me. I promise I shall listen with all attention.”
She held onto his hand as she led him to the bench a short distance away. Was that the trace of a smile on his ragged face? A glimpse of hope in his eyes? Perhaps he had something to say that she ought to hear, after all.