Today is a continuation of my celebration for my newest Austen-inspired book, Elizabeth Bennet’s Gallant Suitor: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary. The book is on preorder now and will release on October 5. Grab your copy before the price change kicks in.
Much of the action of Elizabeth Bennet’s Gallant Suitor takes place in or near St Albans in Hertfordshire. St Albans is a cathedral city, some 20 miles northwest of London. It was the first major town on the old Roman road of Watling Street for travelers heading north and became the Roman city of Verulamium. Nowadays, it is within the London commuter belt.
St Albans takes it name from the first British saint, Alban. The most elaborate version of Alban’s story appears in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. In the tale set in the 3rd or 4th century, Alban provided shelter for a Christian priest fleeing his persecutors and sheltered the man in his own home. In speaking extensively to the man, Alban is converted to Christianity. When the authorities searched his house, he dressed himself as the Christian and accepted the persecutors’ punishment in the man’s place. He was beheaded, and it is said a well sprang up where his head came to a stop.
Before the 20th century, St Albans was a rural market town, a Christian pilgrimage site, and the first coaching stop of the route to and from London, which accounts for its numerous old inns.
“The mixed character of St Albans and its proximity to London have made it a popular filming location. The Abbey and Fishpool Street areas were used for the pilot episode of the 1960s ecclesiastical TV comedy All Gas and Gaiters. The area of Romeland, directly north of the Abbey Gateway and the walls of the Abbey and school grounds, can be seen masquerading as part of an Oxford college in some episodes of Inspector Morse (and several local pubs also appear). Fishpool Street, running from Romeland to St Michael’s village, stood in for Hastings in some episodes of Foyle’s War. Life Begins was filmed largely in and around St Albans. The Lady Chapel in the Abbey itself was used as a location for at least one scene in Sean Connery’s 1995 film First Knight, whilst the nave of the Abbey was used during a coronation scene as a substitute for Westminster Abbey in Johnny English starring Rowan Atkinson. The 19th-century gatehouse of the former prison near the mainline station appeared in the title sequence of the TV series Porridge, starring Ronnie Barker. The 2001 film Birthday Girl starring Ben Chaplin and Nicole Kidman was also partly filmed in St Albans.
“More recently, several scenes from the film Incendiary, starring Michelle Williams, Ewan McGregor and Matthew Macfadyen, were filmed in St Albans, focusing in particular on the Abbey and the Abbey Gateway. It has also been used in the setting for the fictional town Waltringham, in the TV show Humans. As well as this, in late 2021 celebrities such as Timothee Chalamet and others were spotted in Verulanium Park filming the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though the release date has only been speculated at, rather than being released officially by the filmmakers.”
When Elizabeth Bennet’s eldest sister is named as the granddaughter of Sir Wesley Belwood, the Bennet family’s peaceful world is turned on its ear. Over Mr. Bennet’s objections, when Sir Wesley orders Jane to Stepton Abbey, Mrs. Bennet escorts her daughter to meet Jane’s true grandfather, a man who once turned the former Frances Gardiner Belwood out without even a widow’s pension. Elizabeth accompanies the pair, in hopes of protecting both from a man none of them truly know.
Fitzwilliam Darcy travels to Stepton Abbey with his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, whose Uncle Wesley has summoned the colonel to the abbey to meet the baronet’s granddaughter. Sir Wesley is the Countess of Matlock’s brother, and the man wishes for a marriage between the colonel and Jane Bennet (née Belwood) in order to keep the abbey in the family, while Darcy means to be in a position to protect his cousin from being forced into a marriage of convenience.
When Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy meet sparks of self-righteousness fly between them, but soon they join forces to protect their loved ones from Sir Wesley’s manipulations. Moralizing soon turns to respect and then to trust and then to love. This is a friends to lovers tale turned upon its head with unexpected consequences for all.
Excerpt from Chapter Twelve . . .
When Lindale learned of the upcoming horse race, the viscount had insisted they all go into St Albans and enjoy the amusements already pouring into the market town. Fearing Sir Wesley’s return and the baronet finding an empty house, Mrs. Bennet “regrettably” remained at the abbey, charging each of her girls, especially the two youngest, to remember they were in the company of “two very distinguished gentlemen and a future earl.” They were each to be on her best behavior, but Darcy overheard the woman warn the two eldest not to permit Miss Lydia and Miss Katherine out of their sights.
The men had ridden in Lindale’s town coach, while Darcy permitted the ladies the use of his larger traveling carriage, even though he would have preferred to have sat beside Miss Elizabeth and enjoyed the scent of lavender wafting off her skin and the conversation he had become accustomed to share with the lady. He would, unquestionably, regret losing her company when this adventure knew completion.
At last, they reached St Albans without incident. If the rest of the day had gone as smoothly, Darcy would have been on his knees with words of thanksgiving. Such was not to be.
Lindale had claimed Miss Belwood on his arm, with Miss Lydia demanding to join them. Darcy thought Lindale should have seen Fitzwilliam and Miss Belwood together, but his eldest cousin would, naturally, wish to be seen with the so-called “beauty” of their group. Darcy could tell Rowland Fitzwilliam was not best pleased by Miss Lydia’s forwardness, but he tucked the girl in on his other side and led the way down the busy street. The colonel followed with Miss Mary and Miss Kitty, leaving Darcy and Miss Elizabeth to walk together.
In truth, he did not mind having the lady all to himself; even so, he prepared himself for more of her astute observations.
“I suppose Jane told you of her aversion to a reconciliation with Mr. Bingley,” she said as they followed the others.
“She did,” he said, “As Bingley’s friend, I had hoped she would agree to forgive him, but she assures me, she cannot. I explained why he delayed his return, and your sister grudgingly admitted she understands his predicament. However, she cannot forgive his lack of effort in informing her of his intended return: He did not consider the situation in which he left her to face the shame and mocking of others.”
Miss Elizabeth admitted, “Dozens of our neighbors commented on Jane losing yet another suitor, but I thought once we encountered Mr. Bingley at Longbourn again, all would be forgiven. Even I did not realize the depths of her despair. It makes me very sad to realize I failed her and nearly as bad as did Mr. Bingley.”
“I doubt Miss Belwood sees you as anything less than a loving sister who wants only the best for her,” Darcy assured.
“Will Colonel Fitzwilliam agree to a marriage to Jane?” Miss Elizabeth asked. “Your cousin appears less than enthusiastic about marrying her. How could he object to Jane? She is both lovely and kind.”
Darcy did not respond immediately. At length, he said, “No doubt Fitzwilliam would agree regarding Miss Belwood’s many fine attributes, but, in order to marry her, my cousin would be giving up a career in the military, one he has crafted over the last eight years, with a look forward to what he will do as an occupation after the war. Fitzwilliam hopes to join Whitehall and earn his living in government service. Did you realize he may soon be made a brigadier?”
Miss Elizabeth said, “I had no idea. I never considered how much he might lose if he married Jane. I simply thought of the advantages of their joining.”
“Fitzwilliam will eventually inherit a small estate in Oxfordshire when another relation passes; therefore, though it would be an asset, Stepton Abbey does not have the draw it might have for another man. My cousin has known his destiny all his life, and he has purposely crafted connections over those years since university with individuals who would aid him in a life of his own choosing. Just as Miss Belwood has been forced into a life not designed for her, so will be my cousin if he agrees to marry your sister. It truly worries me for the success of such a joining, for each will have given up his or her dreams for a ‘whim’ of a man of Sir Wesley’s nature. Pardon me, but if I am required to agree Miss Belwood should have a say in this matter, I must insist we apply the same standards to the colonel.”
Miss Elizabeth was quick to say, “I agree. I just assumed, as a second son, he would embrace the opportunity to claim an estate and a comely wife.”
“You do not think Miss Mary is comely?” Darcy asked cautiously.
Miss Elizabeth looked to where the colonel walked with two of her sisters. “You have previously suggested a connection between the colonel and Mary, but I never considered it seriously, even though Mary asked Kitty to assist in making her appearance more appealing, something Mary has never done previously. As the colonel is proving to be Mary’s ‘first flirtation,’ I just assumed he would leave, and she would know a broken heart. My father and I briefly discussed how such might be devastating for her, at first. But . . .” She did not finish, simply watched the ease with which the colonel and Miss Mary conversed, viewing it with “new” eyes.
“A man, especially a man who has often looked Death in the eye and walked away, wants something different in a woman than does a man who has never worked a day in his life,” Darcy confided. “Previously, you said, Miss Mary tends to be more religious than, say, even yourself. Can you not imagine a man who questions God’s hand in the destruction to which Fitzwilliam has stood witness requires a mate who can quietly speak to God’s love and the Lord’s benevolence in keeping the colonel alive when others have died—a woman—perhaps not an enchantress on the outside, but one who possesses a deeply beautiful and caring soul? Equally as important, I know Fitzwilliam will claim he possesses a less than handsome countenance, for I have heard him say so often, though I can think of no finer gentleman. Yet, I have never viewed him singling out the beauty at a ball. He often chooses those looked over the first time, for he says they are essentially more interesting than the diamonds of the first run. Despite holding an allegiance to Lord Lindale, I must say Fitzwilliam is the truest companion of my life. Obviously, one cannot judge a book or a person upon first glance.”
Before Miss Elizabeth could respond, Lindale stopped up ahead, and, when Darcy noted who was to greet them, he instinctively nudged Miss Elizabeth closer to his side.
“Darcy,” Lord Samuels said, “I should have known you would be around.”
“Would not wish to disappoint you, Samuels,” Darcy said blandly. He and Samuels had competed for top honors, as well as competitive rowing while at university, and Samuels did not enjoy being second in either.
Lindale was saying, “Samuels, Coppersmith. Permit me to introduce my cousins. This is Miss Belwood, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Miss Mary Bennet, Miss Katherine Bennet and Miss Lydia Bennet.” He nodded to each lady in turn as they bobbed a curtsey. “Ladies, may I present Lord Samuels and Mr. Coppersmith.”
Coppersmith asked, “Is there no Miss Bennet. You have Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary, Miss Katherine, and Miss Lydia?”
Miss Lydia responded before any of them could form a proper explanation. “Jane is also Miss Bennet.”
“Jane?” Samuels asked.
Lindale must not have approved of the lecherous look in Samuel’s eyes. “It is a long story.” Darcy’s cousin offered the baron no further explanation. “You must pardon us. We promised the ladies new ribbons for their bonnets and a proper meal before we return to the abbey.”
“The abbey?” Samuels inquired.
“One of my uncle’s homes. We are visiting with him for a few days,” Lindale said with a touch of impatience.
“Will we see you ‘all’ at the race?” Samuels persisted with a knowing tone.
Thankfully, Miss Belwood caught her youngest sister’s arm before Miss Lydia could again provide information no one wished her to share. “Come along, before the gentlemen change their minds about the ribbons, Lydia.” She tugged the girl away from where they all still stood. Immediately, the other three ladies dipped a parting curtsey and followed, with Miss Elizabeth keeping the Misses Mary and Kitty close to her side.
“Explain yourself,” Samuels demanded.
“Nothing to explain. Miss Belwood is the daughter of my mother’s nephew, Stewart Belwood, who passed before she was born,” Lindale spoke in bored tones, indicating his impatience with Samuels. “Her mother remarried and produced additional children for her husband, a country squire from Hertfordshire. Now you know my family’s history and should be excessively glad I do not pester you to chronicle your own family lines. I assume even you are reasonably capable of repeating mine accurately, if anyone else is foolish enough to ask something of the Matlock family.” Lindale pulled himself up in a manner reminiscent of his father when someone taxed Matlock’s patience one time too many. He gestured for both the colonel and Darcy to precede him.
Samuels, evidently, did not know when to cut his losses. “Will you return to St Albans for the race?”
Darcy and Fitzwilliam turned to view Lindale’s response.
“I do not recall a need to ask for your approval of my plans,” Lindale said in displeasure.
“We should go,” Coppersmith tugged slightly on Samuels’s arm.
“All I meant,” Samuels persisted, “was to tell Lindale not to bet on the filly from the Netherfield estate.”
Darcy’s interest had returned. “And why is that, Samuels?” he asked.
The baron appeared to be satisfied to know Darcy was game for some gossip. “Last evening, I overheard two shabby-looking men talking about making certain the Netherfield horse would not be able to run.”
“Is such all they said? Nothing on what they planned to do?” Darcy pressed.
“No more,” Coppersmith assured. “They left the inn shortly afterwards.”
“Are you planning to bet against the odds, Darcy?” Samuels taunted.
Darcy’s mind was already planning on how to protect Bingley’s investment. “You of all people should know I never lose,” he said cryptically. “Come along, Lindale, we should not keep the ladies waiting.”
Giveaway: I have 2 eBook copies of the Elizabeth Bennet’s Gallant Suitor available to those who comment below. The eBooks will be presented to winners on October 6, after the book’s release.
Preorder the eBook HERE.