In my short eight years of writing fiction, I have written a variety of genres/settings: retellings, sequels, Regencies, paranormal, cozy mysteries, vagaries, contemporaries, and inspirational. I will admit many of my 34 novels fall under the big “umbrella” of Regencies, I do have one set in the Georgian period (prior to the Prince Regent ruling in place of his father George III), but it is set on the American frontier after the American Revolutionary War. The Road to Understanding takes place on the Great Valley Road between what is current day Roanoke, Virginia, and Johnson City, Tennessee. The time is 1787, and the five counties that now form part of eastern Tennessee had joined together as a new state: the state of Franklin, named after Benjamin Franklin. One of the reviews says…
“… the chemistry between our hero and heroine was such that this reader felt like I was watching a John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara flick. The dialogue was so sharp and the misunderstandings proved quite diverting and frustrating at the same time.”
The characters are NOT Austen’s most famous couple placed in a new setting, but you will recognize the pair, nonetheless. I am one who believes that although Austen writes memorable characters, her plots are masterful and easily translated into new situations. For example, Pride and Prejudice can be found in Bridget Jones’s Diary, You’ve Got Mail, North and South (from Elizabeth Gaskell), Bride and Prejudice, and any other book or film featuring an uptight censorious man and a “free spirited,” independent female. So, why not an American version of my favorite book?
The Great Valley Road began as a buffalo trail, used later by Indians as the Great Warrior Path from New York to the Carolinas. At Salisbury, North Carolina, it joined what was known as the Great Trading Path. The road held many names. As it passed through the Shenandoah Valley, it came to be called both the Great Valley Road and the Shenandoah Valley Road. The connection called the Philadelphia Wagon Road laced its way through Pennsylvania. This portion was also referred to as the Lancaster Pike, and its 63 miles was the most heavily traveled portion of the entire road. The section of the Great Valley Road near Fincastle (Virginia) and present-day Roanoke, Virginia, was known locally as the Harshbarger Road. The southwestern end of the road at Big Lick (Roanoke) was extended. Travelers could continue south into North Carolina or head southwest into eastern Tennessee.
In August 1784, four counties of western North Carolina declared their independence and formed the state of Franklin. In April of that same year, North Carolina had ceded the land between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River to the U. S. Congress. The settlers in the area worried that Congress would sell the territory to France or Spain to pay off war debts. As a result, North Carolina retracted its cession and organized a “governing” body for the territory. Simultaneously, the counties petitioned Congress to form a separate state of “Frankland.” The majority of the states agreed, but the proposition did not receive a 2/3 majority required by Congress.
Franklin survived but four years for it could never achieve a strong enough economy. John Sevier, its governor, approached the Spanish for aid. North Carolina feared the Spanish claim to land within its control and had Sevier arrested. The territory returned to North Carolina’s protection in 1788 because the Cherokee, Chickamauga, and Chickasaw Indians increased their attacks in the area.
The Road to Understanding: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
DARIUS FITZWILLIAM’s life is planned down to who he will marry and where he will live, but life has a way of saying, “You don’t get to choose.” When his marriage to his long-time betrothed Caroline Brad
ford falls through, Darius is forced to take a step back and to look upon a woman who enflames his blood with desire, but also engenders disbelief. Eliza Harris is everything that Darius never realized he wanted.
ELIZA HARRIS is accustomed to doing as she pleases. Yet, despite being infuriated by his authoritative manner, when she meets the staunchly disciplined Captain Fitzwilliam, she wishes for more. She instinctively knows he is “home,” but Eliza possesses no skills in achieving her aspirations.
Plagued with misunderstandings, manipulations, and peril upon the Great Valley Road between eastern Virginia and western Tennessee in the years following the Revolutionary War, Darius and Eliza claim a strong allegiance before love finds its way into their hearts.
This is a faith-based tale based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Excerpt from Chapter 6…
He’d avoided her for the remainder of the morning and through the midday meal by inventing tasks to keep busy. Even so, Darius’s mind was rarely far from the woman. He had congratulated himself when he managed not to look in her direction as Eliza and Miss Jonni crossed the small clearing to enter the wood line. The pair carried a blanket, and Darius assumed they meant to provide each other some privacy as they saw to their personal needs.
He wasn’t an idiot, but Darius never thought much on how a woman attended to such things. He’d been but ten when his mother passed while giving birth to his sister. After that, it was just he and his father and Grace. Grace was eight when Darius departed for the war, and until five year prior, he’d lived alone or with Charlie’s family.
It was only after he’d attended a tent meeting in a small town upon the South Carolina coast that he’d known any peace from his nightmares of the war. The preacher spoke at length upon forgiving oneself in the same manner as a man prays for God to do. He learned something that night of time. Like John and Simon Peter, he’d found hope where others saw nothing but an empty tomb.
Darius was far from the epitome of a “good” Christian, but he possessed a deep felt faith in God’s existence and God’s goodness, which had served him well since he’d reached his maturity.
“Some were wondering if you mean to reach Sapling Grove by tomorrow evening,” Charlie said as he sat upon a downed tree trunk.
“That might be too much for the animals. The mountains grow steeper,” he observed. “I’d say if the weather holds we’d be at the fort by day after tomorrow. We’d also arrive early enough in the day to permit laundry and socializing.”
The words barely crossed his lips when he heard her call. “Captain!”
Immediately, Darius was on his feet and running in the direction where he observed Eliza’s entering the woods. He responded purely from instinct, pushing through the brush and swatting away low tree limbs. He heard Charlie’s short pants as his friend trailed after him. Darius’s heart beat out the questions: Wild animal? Snake? Renegade Indian? Or a different sort of enemy? Shannon?
Shouldering his way through the undergrowth, Darius was upon the scene within seconds. He came to a stumbling halt to discover an Indian holding the blanket once belonging to the ladies. Miss Jonquil hunkered behind Eliza in a state of dishabille. Darius didn’t know whether to be frightened for Eliza’s safety or that of the cluster of five Cherokee braves.
When she spotted him, Miss Eliza’s hands fisted at her waist. “Tell him the blanket belongs to me,” she ordered.
Despite the situation, a smile claimed the corners of Darius’s lips: Eliza Harris was like no woman he’d ever known. Whoever earned her regard would never spend a day without excitement.
“Do you think I speak fluent Cherokee, or do you suspect our Indian friends here to be fluent in English?” he asked as edged closer to the Indian holding the blanket.
Behind him, he heard the click of Charlie’s gun, but he motioned his friend to wait.
“You must do something,” she ordered without regard to the danger in which they found themselves.
“I intend to,” Darius said as he gestured to the brave to return the blanket to Miss Eliza’s outstretched hand. The Indians didn’t appear to be overly aggressive, but Darius was of the nature to be cautious.
The brave shook off Darius’s gesture before offeringhim a bargain: the blanket for one of the women. The Cherokee motioned for Darius to take the blanket and to turn over either Miss Jonni or Eliza.
Darius stepped around the Indian to stand before Eliza. “Hequu asaquaningodotu,” he said, enunciating two words he knew of the Indians’ language: “Woman” and something he hoped meant “possession.”
He reached a hand in Eliza’s direction. “The woman is mine,” he declared in his most authoritative voice, one for which he’d rarely found a use since the war’s end.
“I am not yours,” Miss Eliza hissed from behind him.
Darius spoke in low tones so the Cherokees couldn’t hear their discussion. “The man wishes to trade my woman for the stolen blanket. Which is more important?’ He extended his hand again. “Come stand beside me,” he whispered.
“But Jonni…” Eliza began in protest.
“Charlie will see to your sister’s appearance,” he said firmly. “You possess the choice of a bit of embarrassment or to become a Cherokee squaw.”
He suspected Miss Jonquil presented her sister a nudge, but, nevertheless, Eliza accepted his hand, and Darius tugged her safely against his side. Without asking her permission, he planted a kiss upon her upturned forehead. “Smile at me,” he murmured through a gritted toothy smile.
Although he expected reluctance, what he discovered upon Eliza’s features shook him to his core: Welcome. She’d welcomed his presence.
Despite being an even-tempered man, he thought to kill the Indians before him so he might dispense with this farce and claim the lips that enticed him completely.
When Charlie stepped before Miss Jonni, Darius returned to his sense.
He repeated the two words again – “Hequu asaquaningodotu”– before he clutched Eliza to him. If the Indians attacked, he meant to be in a position to protect her from harm.
“Hequu asaquaningodotu,” Charlie repeated behind him. Darius suspected his friend had a like hold upon Miss Jonquil.
The leader of the group tossed the blanket to one of the younger braves. Laughter followed his actions, but Darius waited for the man’s next move. For several elongated seconds, no one stirred, but then the brave presented Darius a nod of respect before motioning his men into the underbrush.
And still Darius didn’t move.
And still Darius didn’t move. The heat of Eliza along his side was all he ever wished to know.
“You may release me, Mr. Fitzwilliam,” she grumbled in disapproval.
Even so, Darius paused to relish her closeness before he loosened his hold on her. For a brief second, he considered claiming Eliza’s mouth for an intimate kiss and relish the consequences of his daring, but a shove against his side said the lady wouldn’t put up with his manipulations further, and so he opened his arms to permit her escape.
“Are you injured, Jonni?” she was asking before Darius could reclaim his wits.
“Just shaken,” her sister responded.
Charlie shrugged from his buckskin jacket to provide Miss Jonquil a moment to right her dress, which was hiked up in th back in a most unladylike manner. Eliza grabbed the jacket, and Charlie judiciously stepped away to provide the ladies a bit of privacy.
Still looking in the direction the Indians had gone, Darius asked, “Did you not hear their approach?”
From behind him, he heard the tut of disapproval return to Eliza’s tone. “We weren’t expectin’ savages,” she protested.
“They weren’t savages,” Darius insisted. “We are. This was their land, and they’re strugglin’ to learn how to survive with our intrusion. They weren’t a war party, for they wore no paint on their bodies, but that don’t mean they weren’t dangerous. If someone invaded my land and attempted to drive me off it, I’d fight also.”
Before he finished his speech, she was beside him again. Eliza’s eyes flashed with indignation. “I find it very convenient,” she accused, “when a man places his faults on the shoulders of another.”
“For what in the blazes do you take me to task this time? Did I err in savin’ yer life? Perhaps I should’ve chosen the blanket,” he fumed. Darius never knew another woman who so enflamed him as this one did.
“If I negotiated with the Cherokees, there’d have been no trade,” she asserted.
Darius towered over her. “Then next time, don’t call out for me. If you wish to bargain with the Indians, you’ve my permission to negotiate a trade. As long as it’s your father’s goods, and not mine, I’ll give not a fig.”
“What goes on here?”
Darius looked up to view a red-faced Harris and several other men watching their spat. Among them was a smug-lipped Shannon.
“Nothing,” he growled as he turned to exit. “Nothin’ except your daughter can’t be pleased, even when a man be savin’ her hide from the Cherokees!” With that, Darius stormed away. He heard Charlie making an explanation to the gathered onlookers.
Still angry, Darius instructed an anxious-looking MacCaffey, “Tell them we roll out in a quarter hour. We must put distance between that party of Indians and us, just in case the Indians decide not to be satisfied with a blanket. Little do the Cherokees know they got the better of the bargain! At least a blanket will keep a man warm at night. A woman’s cold regard is sour to swallow.”