Today I’d like to showcase a chapter from my upcoming release – Cause to Repine. I’m trying desperately to finish the prologue and get the final copy formatted with my distributor so that I can upload a pre-order, and I’m hoping that a little glimpse to this amazing and supportive group will help me with the serotonin burst I need to get over the hump. For this interlude, I’ve chosen a chapter about half way through the first act, introducing some familiar characters in maybe some not so familiar ways.
An Excellent Judge of Character
“Mary? Mary dear, Mamma wishes for your presence. We are to walk out with our cousin to Meryton this morning and your company is much desired.” Elizabeth called to the third Bennet sister as she ascended the stairs in search of the final member of the morning’s walking party, which was the newest scheme to reduce the noise of the household and entertain the Bennets’ newest guest.
Elizabeth and Jane had returned from Netherfield for only one night before another new person invaded their acquaintance and their home. Mr. William Collins was the Bennet sisters’ second cousin through their father’s aunt, and the only male heir to the Bennet family estate.
On the evening Elizabeth and Jane came home, Mr. Bennet had shared with Elizabeth a letter from Collins asking for permission to visit the Bennet family for an extended stay between Michaelmas and Christmas. One would expect that such a missive might have been filled with a discussion about why such a visit was requested, and as an introduction of the previously unknown relative. Instead, Collins’s writing seemed filled with platitudes, sermon quotes, and descriptions of persons so wholly unconnected with the Bennets that it was inconceivable as to why such information was included in a letter to them. While he waited for his inheritance, Collins was the rector at a comfortable living in Hunsford, Kent. The living was bestowed by the owner of the Rosings Estate, which was currently Lady Catherine de Bourgh, of whom Collins had much to say to his cousin. There was also a good amount of toadying about the disagreement between Mr. Bennet and the former Mr. Collins which caused the current rift in the family such that the current Mr. Collins had never previously visited his ‘fair’ cousins or the ‘place of his future felicity.’
By way of explaining his request to visit now, Collins only said he wished to offer an olive branch to his cousins as a means to heal such a rift, which of course was his great patroness’s idea in the first instance, and such a fine idea was never had by anyone before. The letter went on again about Lady Catherine’s unparalleled condescension in such a way that Collins never actually said what form such an olive branch should take.
So, it was with great surprise and no little humour that the young Bennet ladies found out at dinner the night of his arrival that Collins intended to take one of them as his bride, to merge the families and keep the estate of Longbourn as the Bennet family seat.
This news was received much more favourably by the Bennet matriarch. Mrs. Bennet was thrilled at the prospect of seeing another daughter married, and any suitor come to pay attention to her daughters was more than welcome. Within the space of moments, Collins had the full and unwavering support of the mistress of Longbourn for his plan.
As a man with functioning eyes and at least half a brain, Collins set his sights on Jane inside of five minutes after being shown into the parlour. Thankfully, Mrs. Bennet was convinced that Jane would be Mrs. Bingley before the Christmas cakes were cold, so she (not so tactfully) steered Collins away from Jane after dinner. The next morning, Collins turned his eye to Elizabeth, the next in age and beauty to Jane. But again Mrs. Bennet had plans for her second child that included ten thousand pounds per year and a house in Town, so she redirected Collins to the third Bennet sister.
Truthfully, Mary was the wisest choice for Collins. She was pious and thought she would enjoy life as a parson’s wife until they came to claim the estate, hopefully many years in the future. She was also the only Bennet sister likely to entertain the idea of doing that which was necessary to provide Collins with children.
Elizabeth, being very grateful to her mother’s scheming for once in her life, was quick to join in the effort to have Mary become the next mistress of Longbourn. Elizabeth shuffled through her own closet looking for any gown which might be offered as a sacrifice to Mary’s cause. Three were chosen and trim added to the hem to make them long enough for Mary’s taller stature. She was even successful in separating Kitty and Lydia from a few of their more attractive bonnets and ribbons by threatening them with Collins’s attentions should he not find Mary to his liking. The once ‘plain’ Bennet sister was looking very well indeed. Thankfully, the efforts were not wasted.
Just over a sennight had passed since Collins’s arrival, and he was a fair way to loving Mary. If only they could find the time together for a private assignation, Elizabeth was convinced her sister would be happily engaged.
“Mary? Is something the matter dear?” Elizabeth called into Mary’s room when the woman of the hour failed to appear at the bottom of the stairs for their mid-morning excursion into town.
Mary was seated at her window, wearing the most attractive of Elizabeth’s dresses which had been altered for her, hair arranged, gloves already donned, and beautiful bonnet from Lydia in hand. Unfortunately, tears streamed down her pretty face.
“My dear! Whatever is the matter!?”
“Tell me truthfully Lizzy, Mr. Collins would not have bestowed his attention on me if Mamma had not told him that you and Jane were already being courted, would he?”
Elizabeth took a sharp breath and grasped both of her sister’s hands tightly. “I am sure that is not true Mary. It is clear to everyone that you and Mr. Collins match in personality and temperament. I believe you have always wished to marry a man of the cloth, no? And was our dear cousin not saying just last night how much he approves of your quiet steadiness and studious nature? While it is of course the expected thing for families to marry off elder daughters before younger ones, and Mr. Collins probably felt some pressure to consider Jane and myself before settling on you out of respect for our positions as the eldest sisters, I’m sure he would have always come to you as the natural choice for his bride. I will be happy to call him brother when the time comes.”
“Then why have you painted me like a peacock in your dresses and Lydia’s ribbons?”
“So that you may truly feel as beautiful as we all know you to be sweet sister.” Elizabeth smiled and squeezed Mary’s hands. “While I do not always agree with our mother about the best way to go about finding a husband, I believe she is correct in one respect. Men like to have something pretty to look at every now and again. You have always been pretty my dear. Clothes and ribbons cannot turn a sow into a silk purse, but they can help stupid men along the way to matrimony. Now. Let us to town! You look especially fine this morning and we should not waste such a beautiful day. What would God say if we squandered such a gift as sunshine in November?”
After a quick press of a cool wet washcloth to Mary’s tear tracked eyes and cheeks, all the Bennet sisters and Collins set off for Meryton.
As soon as the Longbourn inhabitants crossed the high street into the town centre, Lydia and Kitty spotted a number of acquaintances from the _____shire militia being housed in Meryton for the winter. Lieutenant Denny was heading out of the tailor’s shop with an unknown man in tow. Jane and Elizabeth followed the youngest Bennet sisters closely as they darted across the town centre to beg an introduction.
“Lieutenant Denny! Good morning, how are you? And who is the handsome new friend you have with you?” Lydia barely paused for a breath before dipping into a deep curtsey and fluttering her eyes at the stranger.
Denny and the stranger turned bright smiles towards the Bennet sisters and answered before either Jane or Elizabeth could scold Lydia for her flirting. “Miss Lydia, Miss Kitty, how fortunate that we have come across you this fine morning. Please let me have the great pleasure of introducing Mr. George Wickham to you. Wickham, these ladies are the Bennet sisters from Longbourn estate. Miss Jane Bennet, the eldest, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Kitty, Miss Lydia, and Miss Mary is there walking with the parson across the street. Ladies, Wickham has just today taken a position with the _____shire militia as a Lieutenant. I was taking him on a short tour of town before his meeting with Colonel Forster at luncheon.”
Jane and Elizabeth corralled their youngest sisters and, after introducing Collins to the officers, managed to keep Lydia from more overt flirting as the group moved up the street towards the barracks and the milliners shop. After a few minutes of walking and talking, Jane and Elizabeth’s attention was caught by two fine gentlemen coming down the road on horseback.
Bingley and Darcy rode up to the group a moment later and dismounted. “Miss Bennet! How fortunate we have come across you this morning. Darcy and I were just on our way to Longbourn to call upon you and your family, but here you are instead. Marvellous!” Bingley was all smiles and good cheer, while his friend was sporting a facial expression closer to having smelled something rotten. Elizabeth immediately went to Darcy’s side without much thought to how her actions might signal her attachment to the rich man.
“Mr. Darcy, are you well? Your complexion has taken on an alarming red hue, and you look as if you have ingested something noxious. Can I fetch you water or perhaps a glass of wine to settle your stomach?” Elizabeth wrung her hands and looked around the square for a place to sit if Darcy required a rest.
Darcy looked at Elizabeth and willed himself to calm down. A feeling of extreme anger (and perhaps jealousy) had come over him when he saw Elizabeth talking with, and smiling at, George Wickham. Making a scene in the town square was the last thing Darcy wanted to do, so he schooled his features and responded calmly to Elizabeth.
“Miss Elizabeth, thank you for your concern. I was feeling flushed from the ride here, but I believe it has passed. Will you not introduce me to your friends?” Darcy attempted a smile of kinds, but only a grimace was achieved in his heightened state.
“Mr. Darcy, I would be happy to introduce you to the men in our party you are unfamiliar with, but we have just this morning been introduced to one of the group, a Mr. Wickham has apparently taken a commission with the _____shire militia as a Lieutenant and begins his duty today.”
Darcy visibly relaxed at this news. “As it happens, Miss Elizabeth, I am already acquainted with Mr. Wickham and will only require an introduction to the other two men.” Darcy turned to face the group. “George, it is good to see you again. Miss Elizabeth tells me you are joining the militia quartering here this winter. Good man. I am sure my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, will be glad to hear of your new post. We cannot have the homeland and our citizens unprotected with so many men away in the Peninsular War. Have you come from London or Derbyshire?”
George Wickham paled a bit at the easy manner in which Darcy spoke to him. “Darce, I am surprised to find you here and not enjoying London. I have just come from Town where I purchased a commission and came to meet with my friend Lieutenant Edward Denny.” George gestured to the military man. “Denny, this is a long-time friend, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire and Cresselly Park in Wales. My father was the steward of Pemberley and worked for Darcy’s father until his death several years ago. We grew up together in Derbyshire and shared rooms at Cambridge.”
Upon hearing the introduction of Darcy to the lieutenant, Collins became quite animated and inserted himself into the conversation. “Did I hear you correctly, that this is Mr. Darcy of Pemberley?!”
Mary tried to interject and perform the introduction. “Yes, Mr. Collins. Might I present to you our cousin, Mr. Darcy? This is Mr. William Collins, cousin to my father. He is staying with us for a few weeks. Mr. Collins, this is Mr. Darcy of Pemberley. He is a guest of Mr. Bingley at Netherfield.”
“Well, such an honour, I’m sure!” Collins proceeded to bow incessantly and lowly to Darcy, Wickham, and Bingley. “I am so very honoured to be in the presence of the nephew of my noble patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. I am the humble recipient of a living from her ladyship, the Hunsford parsonage near her estate, Rosings Park in Kent, and she has been most benevolent in her consideration to me. In fact, this journey to visit my fair cousins was her idea entirely, and I cannot be more grateful for the wisdom in her instruction to come to Hertfordshire and seek communion amongst my relations. Might I ease your mind sufficiently by saying that, when I was last in her presence not ten days prior, she and her lovely daughter Miss Anne de Bourgh, were both in very great health.” Collins ended this extraordinary speech with more pronounced bowing. He bent over so low that Mary was required to catch his hat when it tumbled from his head and return the item to him after he regained an upright position.
Darcy looked at the toadying man with great amusement. He turned to Elizabeth to hide his smile, but one look at the twinkle in her fine eyes had him coughing into his elbow to regain some semblance of decorum. “Excuse me please. It must be the dust from the horses. Mr. Collins, thank you for that report on the state of my relations. I admit, I am a letter in her ladyship’s debt and shall mention seeing you here, fulfilling her wishes by escorting the Bennet ladies around town on this fine morning, when next I write.”
The look on Collins’s face upon hearing that he would be mentioned in such a letter was nothing short of ecstatic. Before another coughing fit was required of both Darcy and Elizabeth, the gentleman offered his arm to the lady and steered her towards the book shop. “Miss Elizabeth, might I beg your indulgence in introducing me to the bookseller here in Meryton? I’m looking for a new item with which to entertain myself after having finished the book you recommended, Sense and Sensibility, by a lady. It was a fast read and did much to entertain in the evenings, but I believe I need something more masculine now. An introduction from one of the leading literary minds of the area will surely lend me credibility with the proprietor.”
Elizabeth followed Darcy into the booksellers with an amused look on her face. “Mr. Darcy, please let me apologise for my cousin. We have only come to meet him recently and I had no idea of his connection to your family, or I would have warned you before subjecting you to such an introduction.” Though her words were contrite, Elizabeth’s face still shone with mirth and repressed laughter.
“Please do not trouble yourself, Miss Elizabeth. From what I know of my aunt, Mr. Collins perfectly fits with the type of person I would expect her to choose for her church. I would not be surprised to learn that she reviews his sermons ahead of their delivery to ensure the message conforms to her decided views on religion and morality. I cannot wait to hear what he might preach this coming Easter when my cousins and I make our annual visit to Rosins.”
“So, your relationship with your aunt is a close one then?”
“I would not say we are particularly closely aligned in mind or share the same views on many subjects, but she is my mother’s sister and has looked to my father and myself for support since her husband died many years ago. Regardless of her faults, I am close to her in familial affection. My cousin Anne, her daughter, is a close friend as well as a relation. We are of a similar age, and of similar temperament. That usually makes for quiet evenings when all in company.” Darcy gave Elizabeth a pointed look and she laughed behind her free hand. “That is why we invite our other cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. He treats life as a joke, even while facing Napoleon, and gives us all good entertainment.”
Darcy suddenly remembered their actual errand for the day and reached inside his coat pocket to extract a large envelope addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Bennet. “Speaking of good entertainment, Bingley and I were on our way to pay a call to your mother this morning, with instructions to deliver this invitation to a ball being hosted at Netherfield by Miss Bingley on the twenty-sixth. I believe you already promised me the first set, did you not?” Darcy handed the envelope to Elizabeth just as several people came into the book shop.
“Of course, Mr. Darcy, you are correct as usual. I look forward to the event.”
I’d love to connect in all the usual ways!