As with all my books, I rewrote midnight in austenland about twelve times, every draft cutting and adding, cutting and adding. If I never cut, I could easily have 600 page books. Here are a few scenes, riddled with SPOILERS, so you can see the kinds of things I changed.
[Near the beginning, post-divorce, after Charlotte first read Austen. I cut lots of stuff like this just to keep it trim.]
Charlotte began carrying around a Jane Austen paperback in her purse, partly as an evasive maneuver. In addition to setting her up with anything that breathed, Charlotte's obliging friends were also eager to push on her a plethora of self-help books, everything from "Reclaiming the Real You!" to "Learning to '€˜Connect' After Your Divorce." When they checked up on her reading progression, she was able to pull an Austen out of her purse and honestly say, "I need to finish my other reading first."
The self-help books made her feel crappy. But Austen's books made her feel, and that was new, and intoxicating too.
[My husband Dean reads all my manuscripts at least once and gives me notes. Sometimes he sneakily changes or adds lines as well. Here's one part I stumbled upon during rewrites and didn't remember writing.]
And he did. He kissed her and she kissed him, and then she kissed him and he kissed her again. Together they were a highly productive kiss factory in Lower Kissington in the county of New Snogdon. And as the High Chancellor of New Snogdon, she would exercise her Executive Authority well.
[I really liked this part. It was much longer initially, then based on feedback I whittled it down to this, finally cutting it altogether. This was a part when she first believed the mystery was real and how she came so suspect she was getting carried away with her own imagination.]
She avoided the morning room and wandered alone, wishing she could turn off her thoughts and do something mindless like watch reality TV about action home decorating. But not in Austenland. On autopilot, she found herself in the library.
She had spent some quiet minutes in the library before. She liked to be alone among the books, letting her fingers run across the spines like a child with a stick plucks a tune from a picket fence. The collection wasn't completely historically accurate for 1816. She pulled down a volume titled Rebecca and started to read: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." Manderley sounded like a big old house full of secrets. She put the book back.
The title of the next book caught her eye, The Haunting of Hill House. Charlotte creaked open the cover and dared to peak at no more than its first sentence: "No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality."
No absolute reality here, Charlotte thought, smoothing her silk skirt. No wonder I'm so marvelously sane.
She put the book decidedly back on the shelf. Sanity confirmed, she didn't dare tiptoe into a novel that sounded like a ghost story. Agatha Christie provided the safety and sanity of her detectives to guide and solve the mystery. But ghost stories were just plain scary.
Jane Eyre in its leather-bound glory caught her attention. Charlotte had always been intrigued by it, perhaps because she and the author shared first names. The first sentence read, "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day." Charlotte looked at a window shrouded in rain splatter and felt an instant sympathy with this Jane character. She cozied into a leather-bound chair.
After college, Charlotte had suspected reading was something one grew out of, like a fondness for lollipops and stickers. Mature adults don't build sand castles or collect boxelder bugs in jars or read novels. Right? But ever since her Jane Austen read-a-thon, Charlotte had started feeling that ticklish sensation behind her ribs when she looked at books. She started to wonder, What if it's not just Austen? What if I've changed since James left? What if books mean more to me now?
She read in the library for a few hours, properly irked by the horrid childhood of little Jane. Her stomach grumbled for lunch but she couldn't stop tearing words from the page. Once Jane arrived at the ancient and dark Thornfield Hall, Charlotte began to fear this would be a creepy tale after all. She was beginning to lose her nerve when a passage struck her as if with a physical force.
"It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it."
Charlotte reread that sentence, partly because she was mystified by the abundance of colons and semi-colons (they weren't necessary; were they?), but mostly because the idea chilled her with its honesty. Like Jane in the book, she was getting irritated with a long vacation. No children to chase and run errands for, no work and housework to press her for every spare moment, so much focus on her needs, her desires. It made her uncomfortable. Aghast with all the leisure, her mind was creating conflict. Tempting her to believe in danger when there was none.
That sounded familiar...hadn't Austen dealt with that very theme?
Charlotte put a bookmark in Jane Eyre and pulled Austen's Northanger Abbey off the shelf, scanning through the scenes. A few months ago when she'd last read the novel, it had been a comedy. Now it seemed a commentary on her own stupidity.
[In an early draft, that last scene with Charlotte and Mallery in Pembrook Cottage didn't exist. The next three scenes are scenes I cut when I added that other section instead. Some bits I reused.]
"Do not bother with it, colonel," they could hear Mrs. Wattlesbrook saying from the drawing room. "You are already dressed."
"But after wrestling that lout on the second floor my breeches are dusty and cravat a sight," Colonel Andrews said. "Hold dinner for a crack, if you do not mind. I will be down shortly."
Colonel Andrews rushed up the stairs, chased by Mrs. Wattlesbrook's exasperated sigh.
"Eddie, do you have the key to Mallery's prison room?" Charlotte asked.
He patted his pocket. "I won't allow you to murder him with your bare hands, though I wouldn't mind watching you trounce him."
"I just want to talk to him before the police take him away, or I'll dream about him all night."
"I was hoping for that placement myself," said Eddie. "I don't think--"
"I'll be fine. He's tied up, right?"
They hurried to the second floor. A few doors down from the secret room, a tall, square boy of seventeen sat on a chair, reading a comic book. He stuffed it into his jacket guiltily when he saw them, but Eddie gestured him to keep reading. Pretense had gone out the window, just like Mr. Wattlesbrook's body.
Eddie unlocked the spare room's door but stayed outside, as Charlotte requested.
She left the door open behind her and sat in a chair. She was carrying a candle, the only light in the room. Mallery was tied up in a chair and he didn't look at her, his attitude entirely of a sulky little boy. That image alone was going to do wonders to banish nightmares.
"It's my turn," she said. "To contemplate you. I don't mean to make you uncomfortable. I know it doesn't always feel great to be gazed upon. You did make me nervous, but I guess that's normal when you sense in someone a murderous kind of evil."
He rattled in his chair as if trying to break free then stopped again, his hair over his eyes. It was like watching a supine turtle, squat limbs flailing uselessly. She couldn't help it--she felt sorry for him, just as she would the pathetic little turtle.
She could picture Mallery the night of the fire, running to the pond for water and racing back to the fire, tossing bucket after useless bucket on the growing flames. He must have been mad with frustration. The fire had burned fast, the pond water did nothing. Not that night. But he'd returned to the pond two days later, and then its waters had been very effective at swallowing whole a car with a body in the trunk. That is, until Charlotte had taken an afternoon plunge.
"You know it's not really 1816, right?" she started.
Mallery did not look at her.
"I don't think you're that crazy. You're not really the Wattlesbrooks' nephew. You're an actor. You know this. You didn't kill Mr. Wattlesbrook to protect your own property or the honor of the family or anything. So, why?"
He didn't answer.
"I know you're not all that bad," she offered. "Wattlesbrook burned down Pembrook Cottage, lost Windy Nook and Bertram Hall due to his incompetence, and now planned to divorce his wife and sell off Pembrook Park. Why do you, the real you, care so much? Is it because you belong here, as Neville said? I believe that. You know it's fantasy, but it's as real as you can get to being where you feel you belong. If Pembrook Park was lost, where would you go? London to be in plays? Maybe killing him seemed like a necessity. You were protecting yourself, the truest form of yourself, as you saw it anyway. It was practically self-defense."
He rattled about again then glared at her, one eye visible through the hair. When he spoke, his voice was low and hoarse. "Self-defense of the most sublime nature."
Charlotte nodded. "A bit extreme, but I can sort of understand. Nevertheless, Mallery, you did try to kill me, and that wasn't self-defense."
"One thing I admire about this era that you love so much is the civility. Etiquette is observed, respect maintained. Whatever your reasons, trying to strangle me in the storage room was pretty darn uncivil, and I'd like a real apology."
Mallery jerked once. Twice. Then he clattered and jounced in his chair like a rabid wolverine, snarling and howling in his attempt to get free. Charlotte stood and took a few steps back, but she held her hands clasped calmly in front of her body and waited.
The jerking stopped.
Mallery took a few ragged breaths. His head turned, as if he were looking at her from beneath his mussed hair, and he said, "I am sorry I tried to kill you."
"Thank you," she said, and left. Back downstairs, the police still hadn't arrived.
[In her room at night, Mallery has escaped after the above scene.]
The face came closer. A weight pushed down the side of her bed.
"Eddie?" she whispered.
A hand covered her mouth and a voice not Eddie's whispered, "Don't scream."
Mallery was lying beside her. He removed his hand from her mouth and lay his arm casually across her waist. A fat lot of good kickboxing does you when you're in a nightgown with legs trapped under a blanket. They should have a special class of kickboxing from the supine position. She turned away slightly, trying to gauge in her periphery how far away the side table was. If only she could reach the candlestick and bash his head with it. Not in arm's length. She needed longer arms. Or maybe just a trained Rottweiller. Never leave home without it.
Mallery put a gentle hand on her cheek and led her gaze back to him. Her eyes were adjusting to the dark now, and she could make out his face, his eyes, his content smile. He smoothed the blanket along her side.
"Cozy?" he asked.
"As a dentist's chair."
He blinked "I will not stay long, and I will not hurt you."
"I don't believe you." She didn't mean to whisper, but it was hard to talk at all. She did indeed feel as if she were underwater, her lungs tight, the pressure of the pond pushing her head down.
"I would not have done what I did if there had been another way. Wattlesbrook did not respect women or ancient edifices. He did not deserve to live. But you...I regret hurting you. I regret it with my whole soul, a soul that has been seared and tortured since you came to me and made me see my grave error."
He touched her cheek and smiled. He didn't sound very regretful. He seemed, well, amorous.
"You killed a man." She couldn't help trying. Murder should carry some regret. "He was alive and you killed him. Whether or not he was pond scum, that wasn't your choice to make."
"But it was," he said calmly, looking at her eyes, at her lips. "I weighed and measured him, and he was worth less than the damage he did, and certainly less than the damage he was capable of doing. It was within my power to stop him, and so it became my responsibility."
Charlotte was just calm enough to realize how loony that sounded; and yet, hearing the words from this man lying beside her, (this man who was obscenely good looking, by the way) she felt almost tempted to believe him, buy into the looniness, say, You're right, it's okay.
"Why did you come back?" she whispered. "I was sure you were hundreds of miles away by now."
"I never left. This house holds many secret spaces. As a child I spent hours here exploring. I know this house better than any, I believe. In ways the law cannot understand, she belongs to me."
"Wait, you spent hours here as a child, or your character Thomas Mallery did?"
"I am Thomas Mallery," he said sternly. "I will not be back again, and I wanted to say goodbye."
"Goodbye," she said, more hoping than believing.
He nodded, a little disappointed. "Very well. I will go now. Stay here. Do not move until morning. If you leave this bed before dawn and I am still here, I might have to make you stay."
"Do gentlemen threaten ladies?"
"The warning is meant to protect you," he said.
He is crazy! Oh man, he's crazy, she thought. But he was also so good looking, and maybe that unfairly tempered her reaction to the crazy. If he'd looked something like Steve Buscemi, she was pretty sure she would have been screaming.
Nevertheless, she was about to, in appropriately ladylike terms, ask him to get his hands off her. She got so far as opening her mouth when his lips were on hers. It was so surprising she didn't move.
"Mrs. Cordial," he said, withdrawing to touch her face. "I know why you made me nervous, Mrs. Cordial..."
He kissed her again, longer this time, his arms wrapping around her, his body leaning over hers. Then he let go and a moment later was gone.
She moved. The mattress squeaked. Or was that the sound of the door closing?
"Well, I never," she said to the dark. She sat up, arranged her nightgown modestly over her knees, and looked around from the vantage of her four-poster.
She was sure he was gone. Well, pretty sure. He must know that she would call the police and they would start the search. He'd risked getting caught, for what? For a kiss?
"It turns out, Mr. Mallery," she said, "when all is said and done, you are simply a romantic."
He didn't answer. He was probably gone. But what if he wasn't? He had told her to stay. In bed. That was inconsiderate. What if she had to go to the bathroom? She reached for the candlestick and gripped it under the blanket, just in case. After a few minutes, her heart ceased its manic tickety-tack, tickety-tack, and she lay back on her pillow.
How odd, she thought. I'm not afraid. I don't feel the least bit afraid.
She thought of the dead body in the secret room. Nothing. She imagined her brother in a mask chasing her through a dark house. Nothing. She thought of Mallery, a confessed murderer, perhaps still in her room, lurking, watching her...
She sighed, rolled onto her side, and fell asleep.
"Mallery was in my room last night."
The sounds of chewing, tinkling utensils on plates, and subdued breakfast conversations hushed at once. Everyone looked at Charlotte. Even Neville, just entering the dining room from the kitchen with a plate of sausages, gaped openly.
"What happened?" Miss Gardenside asked.
"He wanted to tell me he wasn't going to kill me."
Charlotte laughed, thinking now that it was a very good joke. "He told me not to move till morning. Then he kissed me."
Eddie stood up, rattling the table and knocking over a glass of orange juice. "He what?!"
"He kissed me?" she said more apprehensively this time.
She hadn't expected a table-rattling-juice-spilling reaction to that news. Wasn't "Mallery was in my room last night" enough of a bombshell?
"You let him?"
"Yeah, no, it wasn't...well, it was...okay, it was totally inappropriate, but he just...I can't believe I'm making excuses for him. He's a murderer but he...well, he needed closure, I guess. And he's like those old heroes--or villains mabye--those tragic princes and tortured Heathcliffs and Rochesters. At least, he sees himself that way, and he didn't want to run off with his tail between his legs. He was still calling me Mrs. Cordial. In my room last night, after everything that had happened--Mrs. Cordial. He's that far gone. But he wanted that final moment, right? He wanted to end it with a kiss. And now when he's caught, his last free action won't be trying to kill the lady, it'll be kissing the lady, and he can live with that. You know?"
Miss Charming rested her cheek on her hand.
"What was the kiss like?" she asked.
"Well, I was in bed about to go to sleep, and suddenly he was beside me..."
Miss Charming put her hands over her mouth and squealed with delight. Eddie slammed down the empty juice glass he'd just picked up and started pacing jerkily.
"Nevermind," said Charlotte. "I'm not going to describe the kiss. It was just a kiss. It doesn't matter. I just wanted to tell you all, so you knew, and we could, you know, inform the police."
"You haven't told them yet?" Eddie's face was turning red. Colonel Andrews and Miss Gardenside were looking back and forth from Charlotte's fumbling to Eddie's fuming. Charlotte didn't like how their glances were becoming knowing.
"They'll catch him, Eddie. He doesn't have a look that can blend well in a crowd. I seriously doubt he'd cut his pretty boy hair even to avoid prison. Besides, he warned me not to move, to stay in bed till morning, and I couldn't be sure he wasn't still there, so I stayed, and...and I know he's crazy, more than a little, but I felt sorry for him too. It's not easy to be him in this world, in whatever year it really is. He doesn't deserve much, but maybe he did deserve his final moment."
"Even after he tried, quite specifically, to kill you?"
"He apologized for that. Twice. And he seemed sincere the second time."
Eddie laughed, and Charlotte shrugged.
"I know," she said. "But I'm nice. It's what I do."
There wasn't much breakfast conversation after that. Charlotte ate quickly while Eddie went for one of the practice foils from the secret room and parked himself by her chair, a Regency secret service agent. As soon as she'd had a little tea and bread with butter, Eddie accompanied her to the inn to phone the detective sergeant, carrying the foil in his belt. The police had taken the manor's one rifle after Mary's spree. At first neither spoke and Charlotte wondered if they would be awkward with each other and words would be just too hard, and having kissed that once would make him afraid of her. Then as soon as they were out of sight of the house, he took her hand again.
"What were you thinking really?" he asked quietly.
"I was thinking of how Austen didn't write good people and bad people--just people-people. And Mr. Darcy seemed bad at first. And Willouby seemed good. And neither of them were totally one thing. And you don't know who Willouby is, do you? Nevermind. Mostly I was thinking about Long John Silver."
"A murderer lies beside you and your fancy flees to pirates?"
"I read Treasure Island to Lu and Beckett a few years ago. It's a lot slower than I expected--you know, for a pirate story. Anyway, at the end Jim Hawkins let Long John Silver go because he wasn't a good man, but he wasn't a bad man either, and he didn't belong back on land. He was a pirate, that's what he was, and he needed a boat and a little treasure and some freedom. And Mallery is what he is, and as the heroine of the story, it was my choice to let him be."
Because she'd decided to be the heroine after all. She refused to be the antagonist, and it was just too pathetic to play a supporting character role in her own story. James was irrelevant--or at least a minor character. So why shouldn't she?
"You're being serious," said Eddie. "A man tries to kill you and you let him go because of Long John Silver."
Charlotte smiled sheepishly. "There's another part I haven't admitted yet, but I'm afraid you'll judge me for it."
"I swear to think only the best. It's not hard to do with you."
"Well, everything I said before was true, but also, I was tired, and while I was trying to decide what to do, I fell asleep."
Eddie pressed his lips together. "This is not a judging expression--this is dubious."
"I know, I know! But isn't it wonderful? I mean, if I was able to fall asleep, then I couldn't have been petrified, right? It's miraculous! Of course I meant to stay awake and afraid, and an hour or more later, when I was pretty sure he was gone and wouldn't snap my neck for getting out of bed, I would have gone for help. To you first, of course. But...it felt so good, to be sleepy instead of scared, and I guess I let myself."
He lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed the backs of her fingers.
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