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Hello, friends! C.P. Odom has a new Pride and Prejudice variation, Determination, and I’m excited to welcome him back to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate the release. He’s here today to share an excerpt, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Please give him a warm welcome!


This excerpt is from Chapter 8 of my new novel, Determination. Since the released blurb on the cover and previous excerpts in the blog tour make it evident that Colonel Fitzwilliam is in romantic pursuit of Jane Bennet, the colonel issued an invitation for Jane, Elizabeth, and her aunt and uncle to be his guests at the theatre for a new production of Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar. This excerpt is about what happens during that excursion.

Chapter 8

He is not a lover who does not love forever.

— Euripides, writer of classical Greek tragedies

Friday, May 1, 1812
Covent Garden, London

Jane looked out the window in surprise as her uncle’s carriage slowed and came to a halt. Shoppers still thronged the pedestrian walkways to either side of the street since many of the shops along Bow Street stayed open until ten o’clock or even later. But there was no sign of the theatre.

“Why have we stopped, Uncle?” Elizabeth asked, leaning out of the window for a better look. A series of dividers separated the pedestrians from the streets, and she was surprised to see a line of carriages ahead of their coach with several more stopping just behind.

“Covent Garden is the largest theatre in town, Lizzy, and it is usually considered to be the leading theatre of the English-speaking world. Only Drury Lane came close, but the rebuilding likely will not be completed until the fall. Even then, it is uncertain whether it will be able to open since the management is said to have been virtually bankrupted by the cost of the renewal.”

“I thought a new company had been formed to cover the cost of rebuilding by subscription,” Mrs. Gardiner said.

“Quite correct, dear, but subscriptions have proven barely able to keep up with costs. Whitbread and his fellow investors are said to have little left in their purse. In any case, Lizzy, there is always a line of coaches, carriages, and hacks waiting to drop their passengers in front of the theatre. We shall simply have to wait our turn.”

Both Jane and Elizabeth settled back to look out at the shops on either side of the street, and there was much to see. Streams of people strolled along the street, pausing occasionally to inspect the various offerings in the fine, high windows. There were drapers, stationers, booksellers, china sellers, and many more, all close to each other and without any break between shops. The shoppers were dressed well but not opulently. Covent Garden and similar shopping areas such as Leicester Square and the Strand were not in the most fashionable areas, but the shops were still genteel and respectable.

The girls had shopped often with their aunt in Cheapside, which was not so very different from the scene they saw here, but everything was significantly altered at night as the streets were lit by a multiplicity of lamps and lanterns of all different colours and brightness. Jane pointed out a dressmaker’s establishment that showed women’s materials—silks, chintzes, muslins, and more—many of them visible behind the windows lit by carefully placed lamps to pique the interest of those passing by.

Just then, their coach lurched into motion again, and they moved up a coach-length before again halting.

“We could get out and walk,” Elizabeth commented, “and then we could inspect the shops more easily.”

“Ah, but it is not done that way,” responded her uncle with a smile. “The theatre employs people who will stop the pedestrians when we alight from our coach, forming a line so we may enter the theatre. If we walked up to the entrance, we would be simply more pedestrians, either forced to enter with those buying tickets or directed away from the arriving coaches. In addition, I should not like to try escorting three ladies past all these merchants’ windows and still arrive in time for the beginning of the play.”

Elizabeth sniffed audibly to show her opinion of this last comment and returned to inspecting the businesses on her side of the coach while her uncle and aunt shared a soft laugh at her expense.

“It is too bad Miss Lucas declined to attend, dear,” Mr. Gardiner said to his wife. “She might have enjoyed the shops even if she does not care for Shakespeare.”

“I believe she would have liked to come, if only to be able to say she had attended the theatre and seen all of the finest society in London. Why, I understand the Prince Regent will be attending tonight,” responded his wife. “But Maria must have eaten some bad meat when we were at the market yesterday. I especially suspect that beef pie she purchased from the gypsy.”

How Maria would have loved to boast that she dined nine times at Rosings with her ladyship, drank tea there twice, AND attended the theatre when the Prince Regent was in attendance, Elizabeth thought sardonically. Silly girl. I told her not to buy that pie.

Gradually, their coach moved up position by position, and Elizabeth happened to be looking at Jane when she saw her sister’s expression change. Jane had been idly looking at the shops on her side of the coach when her head suddenly swivelled and stopped. Her eyes seemed to sharpen and focus, and her whole expression softened even as her lips curved into a smile.

“There is Colonel Fitzwilliam waiting for us,” she said.

“I daresay he is waiting, Jane,” Mr. Gardiner commented dryly, “but I believe I am correct when I say he is not waiting for your aunt and me.”

“And as amiable as I find the gentleman, I am certain he is not waiting for me either,” Elizabeth said teasingly.

Jane’s cheeks grew a little pinker, and she lowered her eyes, but Elizabeth was sure she was not displeased. However, she could not help feeling a pang of regret when she thought of Mr. Bingley.

Had it not been for Mr. Darcy’s arrogant interference, that might be Mr. Bingley waiting, she thought angrily. No matter how Colonel Fitzwilliam might try to change my mind, I do not believe I can ever forgive Mr. Darcy for that.

***

As soon as their carriage stopped in front of the theatre, two servants in Covent Garden livery quickly opened the door and pulled down the step. Mr. Gardiner would normally have exited first in order to assist his wife and nieces, but he waved Jane ahead since the colonel was already stepping forward to do the honours.

Richard’s breath caught in his throat as Jane stepped through the door of the coach, bent over slightly to duck under the top of the door frame. She thus presented to him a most enchanting view down the front of her fashionably low-cut evening gown.

Her aunt had ordered the gown prepared early in Jane’s visit in order to show off her niece’s figure to best advantage though Jane had never had occasion to wear it until her aunt suggested she do so tonight. Mrs. Gardiner’s suggestion certainly achieved the intended result. Richard was not able to keep his eyes from dropping to Jane’s bodice and the view of her neckline as her breasts swelled against the constraints of her gown. He was at least able to make himself wrench his eyes away after a moment so he could accept Jane’s hand as she straightened and stepped to the ground.

Does she know just how enticing she looks? he wondered in numb confusion. Does she have any idea of the effect she is having on me—and on any other man looking this way?

Only manners strengthened by rigid self-control allowed him to exchange greetings with her, though he really wished to simply step back and stare. He did not think he had ever seen a young lady more beautiful in her person or more attractively attired, though he knew enough about women’s fashion to realize that Jane’s gown was nothing extraordinary. It was quite in keeping with the fashion of the day, heavily influenced by the move towards the more simplified and classical styles of Greece and Rome. The waistline was high, and the material was an inner layer of fine white linen with an outer layer of sheer white silk. Gone were the heavy brocades of the previous century, replaced by the clean lines that fell from the high waist just under her bosom all the way to her hem. The sleeves were short, hardly more than straps across the shoulder to support the dress while allowing a low, square-cut neckline to show off the snow-white perfection of a lady’s bosom.

It is a beautiful gown that many a high-society daughter could not wear with more credit, Richard thought. They might pick elaborate gowns with more embroidery and a much higher price, but they could not look as beautiful as this country lass before me—or as desirable.

The addition of physical desirability to his already fixed admiration for this striking young woman only firmed his already expressed intentions, and the soft smile she gave him sent a tingling sensation down his spine and made his blood seem to sing in his veins. He believed he would never forget this moment, his varied emotions twisting, turning, and melting together until no single strand could be untangled from the others.

My intentions are already declared, at least to her uncle, but tonight makes me absolutely determined that nothing—absolutely nothing—shall sway me from winning her and making her my bride.

“Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

The note of query in Elizabeth Bennet’s voice brought Richard’s attention back to the present as he realized that, despite his attempt at self-control, he had clearly been staring too long at her sister. He was quick to turn back to the coach and assist Miss Elizabeth to the ground. The expression on her face was clear: she knew it was the sight of Jane’s exposed bosom that had paralysed him.

And it was clear that she did not approve.

***

Richard was correct in his supposition since Elizabeth had heartily disagreed with her aunt’s suggestion for Jane’s gown earlier that day, believing it was much too revealing.

“Lizzy, you are in London, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the world,” Mrs. Gardiner had said with a smile. “Every woman attending the theatre for this opening performance will be dressed in her absolute best evening wear with considerable shoulder and bosom on display.”

At Elizabeth’s disbelieving look, her aunt had continued. “It is not customary or proper to wear a low-cut or short-sleeved gown to an afternoon event, even in London, but it is quite appropriate for the evening. Trust me, all the younger women tonight—both married and unmarried—will be showing considerable bosom. Jane will be much admired by all the men—and envied by all the women.”

“Especially one young man,” Elizabeth had grumbled under her breath.

“Well, I certainly hope so,” her aunt had replied merrily. “After all, we women have to use whatever assets God has given us.”

Elizabeth was well aware that her aunt was more sophisticated than either Jane or herself, but it was still startling to accept her aunt’s intention to make the best use of the impact Jane’s innocent but nevertheless undoubted sexuality would have on a healthy young man, even one as urbane as the son of an earl. Then she had a further thought.

“Will you be wearing…that is…”

“Will I be wearing anything similar to Jane, even at my ancient age?”

Mrs. Gardiner had laughed delightedly as Elizabeth turned bright red in embarrassment. “Yes, Lizzy, I have something in mind for myself also. After all, I have a man in my life to entice, even if we have had four children. I just wish I had had time to have something as alluring made for you, especially if your Mr. Darcy decides to accompany his cousin.”

“He is not my Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth had said instantly, startled and upset. But her aunt had simply given her a sly smile, which had left Elizabeth feeling decidedly unsettled.

***

Elizabeth was easily able to discern that Fitzwilliam was having difficulty breaking away from the vision of her sister though he did manage to straighten and mumble a greeting to her. But Elizabeth was inwardly certain that he had little awareness of what he said, and he looked distinctly relieved as he saw Mr. Gardiner step next into the doorway. That meant her uncle could assist his wife, which allowed the colonel to turn back to Jane and offer his arm. Elizabeth was warmed and disturbed at the same time as she saw the animation of her sister’s smile when she took the proffered arm.

But Fitzwilliam appeared more in control of himself as he offered his other arm to Elizabeth, and she lost little time in taking it. She had managed to quell her irritation by now, and her expression was one of careful calm. She knew it would do no good to poison the relationship between Fitzwilliam and herself. Even if she thought Bingley would have been a better match for Jane, it was obvious that Jane was captivated by the colonel. If he did as he had told her uncle and managed to marry Jane, it would be disastrous not to be able to visit her beloved sister because of the disapproval of her husband.

Two uniformed doormen opened the theatre doors as they approached, giving them all a bow. Elizabeth looked around in interest once they were inside, and she quickly realized her aunt had been correct about the eveningwear of the ladies. All the fashionable women walking about on the arms of their escorts or waiting to go to their seats were elaborately coifed and gowned, many in attire even more revealing than Jane’s.

Several of them should have exerted a bit more common sense and self-control, considering they no longer have Jane’s or even my aunt’s figure, Elizabeth thought puckishly, her usual nature beginning to reassert itself. She also apprehended that Aunt Gardiner had been right about Jane’s effect on the men.

The contortions some of these gentlemen are going through in trying to get a closer look at her without offending their present partners would be quite entertaining if it were not so necessary to maintain my composure.

For a moment, Elizabeth felt a brief flash of jealousy that she was not the cause of so many men trying to get a better look, but she easily repressed it. She had deliberately dressed in an understated gown that would have been appropriate for visiting but was rather out of place tonight. However, she felt little desire to attract the attention of other men. Having so unwittingly attracted the attention of Mr. Darcy, she had no desire for further interest along those lines.

The noise level had increased remarkably once they were inside the foyer, and Jane had to lean towards Richard as she said, “There are more people here tonight than I had expected. Is it very expensive to attend this theatre, Colonel Fitzwilliam?”

“Not unduly so, Miss Bennet. The ground level boxes go for six shillings, and a great number of people from all walks of life attend every week. It appears they will be playing to a full house tonight.”

“Where shall we be sitting?”

“We have the good fortune to have the loan of a private box, so we should have an excellent view. We go up these stairs just ahead,” Richard said, nodding towards the stairway. An employee in evening dress was passing parties up the stairs and, when their turn came, Richard handed him the card Darcy had given him. The man took only a cursory look at it since Richard had taken the precaution of presenting the card prior to the arrival of the Gardiner party.

The man snapped his fingers, and one of several uniformed boys sprang to his side.

“Enjoy the performance, Colonel Fitzwilliam,” the man said as he handed the card to the boy.

“Thank you, Logan, we shall,” responded Richard politely.

“After me, if you please.” The boy, who appeared to be about twelve or thirteen, led the party up the stairs and down a long, narrow hallway.

“Here you are, ladies, gentlemen.” He opened a door towards the end that led into a box. “Enjoy the play.”

“Thank you,” Richard said, giving the boy a shilling. Mr. Gardiner gave him another, and the boy grinned widely at his good fortune.

“Thank you, sirs!” he exclaimed before he scampered down the narrow hall, expertly squeezing past the next party being led to their box by one of his fellows.

“Now we know why they employ boys,” Mr. Gardiner said. “They are small enough to get past parties coming this way.”

The box had seats for six, three in front and three behind, with the chairs in front on a lower step so the view from the rear was unimpeded. The chairs were comfortably made with cushions on the seat and back as well as upholstered arms.

***

“Would you and Mrs. Gardiner care for the lower seats, sir?” Richard asked. “Or perhaps we could let the ladies sit in front while we sit behind.”

“No, no, you young people sit down front. I only need my spectacles to read—my vision is otherwise quite excellent. Mrs. Gardiner and I shall make ourselves comfortable in the rear.

And you will also be able to keep an eye on your two nieces, thought Richard with amusement as he recognised Mr. Gardiner’s ploy. Who knows what might happen with Jane dressed as she is?

Richard made sure that Elizabeth did not manage to separate him from Jane, and before she realized what was happening, he had offered her the left hand seat. She had no choice but to take it, which allowed Richard to seat Jane in the middle seat. He took the remaining seat on the right while Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner settled down in the two seats on the right directly behind Jane and him.

Richard saw Elizabeth looking at him in a speculative fashion, and he arched an interrogative eyebrow. The interior of the box was only dimly lit, but their eyes were rapidly growing used it.

“Yes, Miss Elizabeth? Did you have a question?”

“Not a question, sir, a compliment on the skilful way you arranged the seating.”

“Tactics—my soldier’s training, you know. But I do want to offer you a compliment on your diligence in attending your sister. No ne’er-do-well shall get close to her with you providing protection.”

“Surely you are not suggesting you fall into that category.” Elizabeth gave him her sweetest smile but with the light of deviltry dancing in her eyes. She might prefer Bingley as a husband to her sister, but she did very much like Fitzwilliam. “Yet I do note with dismay that you have reverted to your beloved uniform again. And just when Jane and I had reason to believe your wardrobe of fashionable attire was rather extensive.”

“I am afraid your sister has caught me out, Miss Bennet,” Richard remarked, turning now to Jane. “Either your assessment of my indifference to fashion was correct, or I have exhausted the only two pieces of gentlemanly attire I own.”

“Ignore her, Colonel,” replied Jane with a smile. “She and I often tease our younger sisters about swooning over a red coat, but I think your uniform suits you perfectly.”

“I hope I might be introduced to your other sisters soon,” Richard said quietly, his nerves tingling as he awaited an answer to this probe.

Jane was conscious of a sudden constriction in her throat at this indication that Richard’s interest would not be limited to her tenure in London. She had to swallow several times before she could finally say, “If…if you visit our home in Hertfordshire, I shall be glad…very glad…to introduce you.”

“Excellent,” Richard said, feeling a weight lift off his shoulders. “Perhaps I might pay your family a visit Saturday week? I know you travel home tomorrow.”

“I…I shall look forward to seeing you again,” Jane said quietly, and the softness in her eyes as she looked at him made Richard feel about six inches taller.

However, he caught the expression on her sister’s face, and he was not at all sure what to make of it. Not disapproval, exactly, just…assessing. But assessing what?

“I am not at all familiar with this play,” Jane said as they waited for the theatre to fill. “Lizzy and I were usually more interested in the comedies and the tragedies.”

“The tragedies, Miss Bennet?” Richard asked, arching his eyebrows. “I am dreadfully sorry, but I have great difficulty picturing you delving into King Lear.”

“Well, perhaps my interest did lie more towards the comedies,” admitted Jane sheepishly.

Richard fixed his eyes on Elizabeth. “And does that mean you were more interested in the tragedies?”

“Actually, it was the histories rather than the tragedies, though I admit a partiality to Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.”

“I cannot remember hearing of a production of Julius Caesar here in London,” Mrs. Gardiner said. “I read the play many years ago, but it does not seem too popular any more.”

“It used to be popular some fifty years ago,” her husband said. “And I hear it is very popular in America these days. Evidently, they read it in the spirit of republican patriotism, and whenever it is performed, the part of Caesar is invariably played by an actor with a most distinguished upper-class British accent.”

The last sentence was stated in such a droll manner that it inspired a general round of laughter, tinged with some apprehension since relations between America and England gave every appearance of degenerating into dangerous territories.

“In any case,” Richard said, not wishing to dwell on such sombre matters, “it seems this resurrection of Julius Caesar is the work of John Kemble, who manages the theatre and is the brother of Mrs. Sarah Siddons, the famous actress. He will play Brutus, and his brother Charles will play Marc Antony. I have heard they plan a completely different interpretation of the play. Evidently, they intend it to be more of a ‘noble drama,’ with great attention paid to ‘accurate costuming’ and ‘scenic splendour.’ Or, at least that was the way it was described in The Times.”

Richard had noted that Elizabeth was looking around the theatre as he talked, and he guessed that she had just realized how favourably their box was placed, close to the left side of the stage and at a slightly higher level, where they would be able to look down on the actors from a point only slightly above their heads. Suddenly, when she twisted around to look at the empty seat behind her, he was not surprised to see a sudden look of anger on her face.

“Uncle,” she announced, clearly trying to keep her voice calm, “do these not appear to be very nicely located seats? Compared to what I can see, ours would seem to be among the very best.”

“Of course, Lizzy. This is a third level box, a private box. It can only be rented yearly, and the seating is thus very desirable.”

Elizabeth nodded tautly, before turning to Richard. “You mentioned you had the good fortune to have the loan of a private box, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Would it be possible this box belongs to your cousin Mr. Darcy?”

Richard’s expression as he looked at Elizabeth was one of calm composure though he could see embarrassed looks on the faces of her aunt and uncle out of the corner of his eye. He knew Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner had to be distressed at the unseemly anger their niece was displaying.

They, of course, must have immediately deduced what has only now occurred to their niece, he thought, but they had too much tact to comment on it; whereas, Miss Elizabeth, with her usual forthright manner, simply plunges in and speaks her mind.

“It is indeed Mr. Darcy’s box. He was kind enough to offer it to me for our use tonight.”

“I do hate to be so uncharitable since we are your guests tonight, Colonel,” Elizabeth said, her anger now openly displayed, “but I remember your original reason for visiting my uncle’s house. I cannot help wondering whether Mr. Darcy might coincidentally be joining us tonight.”

“No, he will not,” Richard said flatly. He locked stares with Elizabeth, and he saw the surprise on her face at his blunt statement and his cold, dispassionate tone. She could not long maintain her glare in light of such a refutation of her suspicions, and he could see her anger fading away.

“Then why did he give these seats to you?”

“Because he knew he would not be attending. When I mentioned my intention to attend tonight, he offered the box to me, saying someone might as well have the use of a box for which he had already paid.”

Fitzwilliam’s last words had been stated in an emotionless tone, and Elizabeth flushed in embarrassment as she realized how rude her comments had been.

“I might also mention,” Fitzwilliam continued, “that my cousin has always favoured Shakespeare’s histories, and he had shown the greatest interest in attending this revival of Julius Caesar. I was thus surprised when he made his offer. In addition, this is not the first time he has allowed me and others of his friends to make use of his box. He has always been most generous, even when we were boys together.”

Elizabeth was now stricken at how she had converted the convivial atmosphere to one of cold formality, and she realized Fitzwilliam had just thrown in her face the knowledge that Mr. Darcy had not put her out of his mind but was instead avoiding his usual activities because of the blow to his spirits. She felt especially dreadful as she remembered commenting so lightly to Jane that she was sure he had other feelings that would soon drive away any thought of her. Obviously, such a change in his opinion had not taken place, and she suddenly realized just how spiteful and malicious her behaviour must appear to her companions. A great wash of embarrassment and shame swept over her, and her cheeks flamed red as other remembrances flashed across her mind.

“I am sorry,” she said in a strained voice. “I spoke very much out of turn. I beg everyone’s forgiveness for my careless and thoughtless words.”


About Determination

“Love at first sight” is a laughable concept in the considered opinion of Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam andnever occurs in real life—certainly not in the life of an experienced soldier. In fact, until he observes the smitten nature of his cousin Fitzwilliam Darcy, he doubts that fervent love truly exists. Marriage, after all, is a matter of money, social standing, and property.

But his cousin becomes besotted with Elizabeth Bennet, the lovely but penniless daughter of a Hertfordshire gentleman, and is determined to make her his wife. Unfortunately, emotions overwhelm hisgood judgment, and he botches an offer of marriage.

When the colonel attempts to untangle the mess, his own world becomes almost as chaotic when he makes the accidental acquaintance of Miss Jane Bennet, Elizabeth’s beloved elder sister. Can emotions previously deemed impossible truly seize such a level-headed person as himself? And can impassible obstacles deter a man of true determination?

Amazon (U.S.) | Amazon (U.K.)


About the Author

By training, I’m a retired engineer, born in Texas, raised in Oklahoma, and graduated from the University of Oklahoma. Sandwiched in there was a stint in the Marines, and I’ve lived in Arizona since 1977, working first for Motorola and then General Dynamics.

I raised two sons with my first wife, Margaret, before her untimely death from cancer, and my second wife, Jeanine, and I adopted two girls from China. The older of my daughters recently graduated with an engineering degree and is working in Phoenix, and the younger girl is heading toward a nursing degree.

I’ve always been a voracious reader and collector of books, and my favorite genres are science fiction, historical fiction, histories, and, in recent years, reading (and later writing) Jane Austen romantic fiction. This late-developing interest was indirectly stimulated when I read my late wife’s beloved Jane Austen books after her passing.  One thing led to another, and I now have five novels published:  A Most Civil Proposal (2013), Consequences (2014), Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets (2015), and Perilous Siege (2019), and A Covenant of Marriage (2020). Four of my books are now audiobooks, Most Civil Proposal, Pride, Prejudice, and Secrets, Consequences, and A Covenant of Marriage.

I retired from engineering in 2011, but I still live in Arizona with my family, a pair of dogs (one of which is stubbornly untrainable), and a pair of rather strange cats.  My hobbies are reading, woodworking, and watching college football and LPGA golf (the girls are much nicer than the guys, as well as being fiendishly good putters). Lately I’ve reverted back to my younger years and have taken up building plastic model aircraft and ships (when I can find the time).

Colin Odom Facebook page | C. P. Odom Amazon Author page | C. P. Odom Goodreads page | C. P. Odom Meryton Press page


Giveaway

Meryton Press is generously offering 8 ebook copies of Determination as part of the blog tour. You must enter through this Rafflecopter link. Good luck!


Thank you, Colin, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new release!

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