Excerpt: The Red Chrysanthemum

Now that the TRC Blog Tour is over (with a HUGE thank you to Jakki Leatherberry at for being our tour guide), I am left with an excerpt that didn’t get used. Rather than have it languish, feeling sad to be left behind in a file of “excerpts for the tour” I will insert it here.

The Set-up: In this scene, Elizabeth Bennet has already found the nosegay meant for her from Fitzwilliam Darcy. She has come to Pemberley in secret, and at Darcy’s behest, to create a scent for him to give his sister on the occasion of her seventeenth birthday. This is the reason for such secrecy as Elizabeth moves through the Pemberley cutting garden.


Betony, Stachys officinalis

Chapter 5, A Flower Unseen                           25, July 1812

Elizabeth marshalled her wits and began looking through the shelves and cupboards of the Pemberley stillroom. She found some attar of damask rose in a brown bottle that had not lost its perfume. Generally, the room was clean but the cupboards were a fright with drawers housing broken shears as well as those still useful. Open shelves were full of dust and grimy bottles with contents no longer fresh, most with faded labels. One cupboard was devoted to vases of all shapes and sizes and half a dozen were sparkling clean as though recently used. She developed an idea for a scent and started making a list of the items she would need just as the housekeeper returned to the stillroom.

“May I be of service, Miss Bennet?” she asked.

“Mrs Reynolds! Yes, I was just putting a short list together. I need an apron and some boiled water, and if I could impose upon you, is there Arabian jasmine in the conservatory?”

“Yes, ma’am, shall I pick some?”

“Yes, please. Just blossoms that are open, as one would use in tea.” Mrs Reynolds nodded as Elisabeth continued, “And an empty bucket?”

Mrs Reynolds wanted to ask Elizabeth just how much scent she intended to make but knew such a question was impertinent. “And that is everything?”

“Yes, thank you. I am going to don my cloak of secrecy and venture out for some flowers whilst you are picking jasmine. Where is the cutting garden?”

“Are you sure you should, miss?” Mrs Reynolds was worried.

“I know what I want, and if the flowers I require are not there, I shall return directly.” Elizabeth took up the herbal and found a pocket in the cloak for it.

Mrs Reynolds gave her directions to the garden. It was located off the southwest corner of the house in a walled area and she consoled herself that Miss Bennet would be on the opposite end of the house from any view to be had by the occupant of the music room.

Elizabeth walked down a long dark hall, past little pantries of jarred fruit and curing meats. She squinted at the bright sun upon exiting the house and waited a moment for her eyes to adjust. To her right was a path lined with espaliered fruit trees; she had been told the cutting garden was at the end of it. She entered a walled garden and found Sweet William and scarlet lychnis growing there. She consulted the herbal. How much do I wish to say? I would not have him think me forward, but Charlotte always said a lady should leave a gentleman in no doubt.

Elizabeth found the first blossom on a clump of red chrysanthemums and snipped it. Dare I say so much? She walked back toward the house, feeling her nosegay would not be as eloquent as Darcy’s had been. She saw a perfect peach hanging low over the stone path and stooped to pick it. It occurred to her that fruit might have meaning and she consulted the herbal. ‘Your qualities, like your charms, are unequalled,’ it read. Hmm, she thought, I could leave the peach sitting with the vase and herbal. He would understand they are meant to be together.

As she walked back to the house, she noticed a swath of viscaria had seeded itself at the edge of the paving stones. She stopped, turning pages. It means ‘Will you dance with me?’ How marvellous! This is exactly what we should do! We should start over. Elizabeth picked enough for a whole vase full.

Another path lined with garden plants beckoned to her left. She could not resist a little exploration. She found betony, the flower of surprise, and decided it would do quite well. Mr Darcy was now surprising her daily. Bearing an armful of flowers, she snuck back into the house.


Writing The Red Chrysanthemum

aTRCbookmark front    In September 2011, 200 years to the day that Fitzwilliam Darcy arrived at Netherfield (or so I told Meryton Press in my query letter) I checked out the first title of Jane Austen Fan Fiction I’d ever read, looking for some light summer reading. It happened to be What Would Mr. Darcy Do? by Abigail Reynolds. It begins as Darcy approaches the inn in Lambton, and he is in hopeful spirits because Elizabeth has smiled at him. Reynolds’ contention is, Darcy is about to pluck up his courage and ask Elizabeth if he may court her. As in Pride and Prejudice, he finds her reading Jane’s letter with the awful news about Lydia. But he does declare himself, and Elizabeth’s response is affirmative.

   After reading much more JAFF, I started asking questions myself. And, I began enjoying Pride and Prejudice variations told from Darcy’s point of view, or mixing his with Elizabeth’s, which of course strays from Jane Austen’s style. I watched, again and again, the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice mini-series. Suddenly my vague musings had voices. In returning to the original novel, I found two things wanting: more details of the official engagement (yes, Aunt Philips annoyed them…but what else?), and a satisfactory answer to why Darcy visited Lambton on that fateful morning. I started a long story—probably novel length, the words have not been counted—Longbourn to London, detailing the courtship of Elizabeth and Darcy, from about five days after the accepted proposal to the end of their first week of married life, spent at their London home. Knowing the stars of the 1995 mini-series shared a brief affair during the filming inspired (fueled) portions of the book. It is for adult readers, and is posted in its entirety in the stories forum at the Meryton Literary Society’s “A Happy Assembly” website.

    Early in “L to L” as I call it, Elizabeth asks Darcy the question I wanted Jane Austen to answer: why did Darcy go to Lambton when he knew he would see Elizabeth in the evening? As the Darcy in my story spoke, another Darcy asked, “What-if?” What if, when Darcy got to Lambton, Elizabeth was indeed reading a letter from Jane, full of happy, if trifling, news? There we start The Red Chrysanthemum. Elizabeth and the Gardiners stay their full ten days in Lambton. The dinner at Pemberley takes place; Elizabeth gets the chance to speak to Bingley about Jane, and gets to know Georgiana. Banter over dinner blossoms into a floral conversation aided and abetted by dear Mrs. Reynolds, who plays a larger role in this telling. But the original Pride and Prejudice is the template, so the letter from Longbourn arrives at Pemberley (Why not to the inn in Lambton? That would be telling!), and Jane Austen’s original story lures us back.

The Red Chrysanthemum is also a story for adult readers as the details of the wedding night are what one might expect of such characters as Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. They are love, they are in love, and for this modern reader (and author), such a profound love needs fruition.

For those who know my garden writing, but have never read Pride and Prejudice, please let me suggest, at the very least, you watch the 1995 BBC mini-series (rent it from your library, Netflix has it now, or buy it on Amazon), before reading The Red Chrysanthemum. The luminous Jennifer Ehle won a BAFTA for her perfect interpretation of Elizabeth Bennet. Colin Firth, quite famously, embodies Darcy. The screenplay by Andrew Davies is remarkable for its enthusiastic restraint. The whole of it may embolden you to read Jane Austen’s original. I hope so.