Good morrow, fair readers.
I am Cherith Boardman, proud reader and writer of Jane Austen Fan Fiction. As a former Amish woman, I am notoriously social media averse. Today is an achievement for me: my blog debut – so please be kind as I learn this new format.
I am very grateful Ms Jeffers for the invitation to join this lovely group of authors.
My third story, Mistaken Premise, was released last Friday, February 17th. Whereas Mistaken Premise is a twist on the Lizzy-is-not-a-Bennet trope (one of my favourites), it is also very much a Lizzy-coming-of-age story. I hope you enjoy meeting Lizzy in this excerpt from Chapter 1 of Mistaken Premise.
At last, the post-chaise bearing Malcom Boyte, Marquess of Trent, heir to the Duke of Soloway, ceased its rattling as it stopped before Longbourn, the home of his lordship’s beloved younger brother’s closest friend. Lord Trent studied the well-maintained Tudor manor – a charming reminder of the days of ruff collars and doublets, as his men retrieved the wheeled-chair strapped to the back of the chaise.
Bennet exited the house, a black armband still on his arm, and he assisted in lifting Lord Trent from the step of the carriage and into the chair, then carrying chair into the house. Bennet ushered his visitor into his book-room and sent a footman to fetch Mrs Bennet from her sister’s home in Meryton, where she had gone with the three girls – Jane and Mary Bennet, and Elizabeth Boyte, his lordship’s niece and the small girl, little more than a bairn, upon whose head rested the future of the duchy.
First, Malcom demanded the details of the conflagration at Netherfield which took his brother’s life, learning that Lord Andrew died trying to save the maids trapped in their quarters. Lady Andrew[i] had gone first to the nursery, handing Lizzy off to her mother, then she had gone to assist her husband. Bennet’s voice was rough with his grief. “According to Lady Elinor, who lived but thirty-four hours, the heat and smoke were overwhelming then, and the roof collapsed as she was coming out the door.”
Silence reigned for several minutes as Lord Trent mourned the now inescapable truth of his brother’s death. He loved his brother; Andrew had been his motivation for so long, Malcom doubted he could find a reason to leave his bed the following day.
“My sympathies for your loss, your lordship.” Bennet’s voice echoed Malcom’s grief.
“You grieve him, too.”
“Aye, my lord, but I have had time to adjust – yours is fresher.”
Malcom nodded, wiping his eyes with his handkerchief. Andrew’s will had appointed Bennet as executor; however, the gentleman had only made such decisions as were inescapable, as he awaited the marquess. “His Grace, your father, now has no comprehension of the business affairs of the duchy, and Andrew had been helping manage these for the last two years. When I accompanied your brother and sister-in-law to Kilmarnock for burial, His Grace possessed no memory of me nor any concept that his younger son was dead. Your stepmother, Her Grace, also attended the funeral; when I suggested she raise Lizzy, she informed me, ‘I am hopeless with such young children. Nay, Lizzy is much better with you, your wife, and your lovely daughters!’
“Not that I mind. We love Lizzy; but we are unprepared to raise a future duchess – the reason I approached Her Grace.”
Thomas Bennet sat nonplussed upon learning Lord Trent intended to leave his niece, and heiress, in the primary custody of Longbourn’s master and mistress. “Look at me, Bennet!” he cried, sweeping his hand to insinuate his weakened legs and the wheeled chair. “Not only am I a fifty-five-year-old bachelor who knows naught of children – especially little girls – but I am lamed. My focus shall need to be on my father’s care and the duchy’s business, and I shall have little time to devote to a small child still grieving her parents.
“Neither should my niece be left to the care of naught but servants and governesses, no matter how qualified, in the castle nurseries in Scotland. And should she reside in Town, she shall never escape the onus of her future as the eventual Duchess of Soloway. As one who lost his childhood because fate destines him to be the 8th duke, I will not subject my niece to the same! The expectations to be perfect, the preparations for my future roll, the scrutiny of my every move by Society, were as crippling as the fever which later weakened my legs.
“I always promised I would allow any child of mine the freedom to be a child – I strove to protect this for Andrew, and I will now protect it for his daughter!”
Bennet at last found his voice. “To leave her unprepared for the burdens she cannot escape, is that not cruel, your lordship? Aware of Lady Andrew’s difficulties before Lizzy’s birth, your brother and sister-in-law were already preparing their daughter for the burden she would bear, should her mother never carry a son to term. If Andrew was readying her for the mere possibility of her destiny as the 9th duchess, can you disregard the now certainty of her bearing that role?”
“Preparing her for her future currently requires but an educated, competent nursemaid and an excellent governess. She has the first, and we can hire the second – I shall provide the salary – right here at Longbourn where my niece can have a childhood, playing with other little girls, growing within a family, familiarising herself with any company.”
The rumble of carriage wheels on Longbourn’s drive reached the study, delaying further debate. Malcom wiped his palms on his knees and straightened his clothing, desperate to make a good first impression on his brother’s child, as Bennet left to collect Lizzy. At last, the door opened and a child smaller than the marquess had imagined, pattered into the room, holding Bennet’s hand. Her large eyes assessed the room before meeting the stranger’s gaze with an innocent curiosity. Her mop of red curls – darker than her father’s, for her mother’s brown was likewise there – contrasted with the pale countenance of her Scottish forefathers.
The marquess’ breath caught in his throat; whilst there were elements of her mother in her look, the resemblance between the child before him and her father at the same age made his heart ache again at the loss of his brother. Squatting beside her, Bennet, without speaking down to the precocious child, explained that this was her Uncle Malcom, Lord Trent. She bobbed an adorable attempt at a curtsey, inspiring his lordship’s smile.
It was the smile that did it.
Unbeknownst to the adults, but in the fading memory of the bereaved child, this man in the funny chair had the same one-dimpled smile as her beloved Papá, before he, Mamá, and Grandame[ii] left to live in heaven.
She approached the chair, and in the universal language of children across the globe, lifted her arms in a wordless request to be held in the sheltering embrace of a trusted adult.
Thomas Bennet’s eyes flooded as Lord Trent lifted his niece. Malcom Boyte’s eyes were no less damp as he embraced this last tangible link to his brother. Her little arms closed around his neck, and his wrapped about her, rocking side-to-side in comfort to both.
There was much left to decide, but for now, he cradled his reason to awaken the next morning: his niece, his heiress… his little Lizzy.
[i] Lord and Lady Andrew – the younger sons of dukes do not use any of their father’s subsidiary titles but are entitled to an honorary “Lord” before their given names. Their wives are addressed as “Lady Her-Husband’s-Name”.
[ii] Granddame – lower Scots for Grandmother
I hope you enjoyed meeting Lizzy and her Uncle Malcom. Mistaken Premise is available at Amazon and Kindle Unlimited: Mistaken Premise
Godspeed until next time (March 24), when I will begin an exploration of Scottish history as it relates to Mistaken Premise.