- About Jane Odiwe
- Inspired by Persuasion: Searching for Captain Wentworth - Reviews
- Inspired by Pride and Prejudice: Mr Darcy's Secret - Reviews
- Inspired by Sense and Sensibility: Willoughby's Return - Reviews
- Inspired by Pride and Prejudice: Lydia Bennet's Story - Reviews
- Audio Excerpts from Searching for Captain Wentworth
- Book Trailer for Searching for Captain Wentworth
- The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
I was very excited to read about some of the discoveries made during the dig at Jane Austen's childhood home in the village of Steventon, Hampshire, which took place in November 2011. The rectory was pulled down in the 1820s and what is known of its appearance is only recorded on old maps and drawings or writings made from the memories of Austen descendants. It seems that the actual foundations of the rectory have now been located as a result of the dig - formerly, the only clue to its situation was the presence of an iron pump.
Jane was born in Steventon Rectory and lived happily for the first twenty five years of her life until her father decided to retire and move the family to Bath. It was here that she drafted her first three novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, all between the ages of 19 and 23.
Anna Lefroy, niece of Jane, wrote about her memories of the house:
"The dining room or common sitting-room looked to the front and was lighted by two casement windows. On the same side the front door opened into a smaller parlour, and visitors, who were few and rare, were not a bit less welcome to my grandmother because they found her sitting there busily engaged with her needle, making and mending.In later times ... a sitting room was made upstairs: 'the dressing room', as they were pleased to call it, perhaps because it opened into a smaller chamber in which my two aunts slept. I remember the common looking carpet with its chocolate ground, and painted press with shelves above for books, and Jane's piano, and an oval looking-glass that hung between the windows; but the charm of the room with its scanty furniture and cheaply painted walls must have been, for those old enough to understand it, the flow of native wit with all the fun and nonsense of a large and clever family."
In Nigel Nicolson's book, The World of Jane Austen, he notes that there were two parlours and a kitchen, a private study for the vicar and ten bedrooms above, three of them in the attics.
It seems quite a large house, but the Austen's had six boys plus the two girls and Mr Austen tutored boys who also came to live with them. The Austen boys were not always at home as they were sent away to study and even Jane and Cassandra went to school for a short while, but even so, along with servants, it must have seemed a busy household.
Apparently, they excavated thousands of metal, glass and ceramic objects during the dig, and I wasinterested to see from the photographs on the website that there were pieces of Willow pattern china discovered amongst the findings. Blue Willow was a very popular pattern during the eighteenth century. The pattern was inspired by the designs imported from China and were produced from the 1780s and 90s by Thomas Minton and Thomas Turner of Caughley. It was produced by transfer printing - the design was printed onto a sheet of thin tissue paper and then applied to earthenware or porcelain - a technique in use from 1750 in Birmingham. Spode, Royal Worcester, Adams, Wedgwood, Davenport, Clews, Leeds and Swansea followed.
Burleigh is one of the only companies left producing transferware in the traditional method - a favourite website of mine. Another favourite is Lovers of Blue and White where you can find examples of old and new blue and white transfer ware. And there are always bargains to be had for Willow pattern on ebay!
We know from a letter that Jane wrote on the 6th June 1811 that the family also owned someWedgwood - "On Monday I had the pleasure of receiving, unpacking and approving our Wedgwood ware. It all came very safely and upon the whole is a good match, tho’ I think they might have allowed us rather larger leaves, especially in such a year of fine foliage as this…" Her brother Edward, who was adopted by wealthy relatives, owned a set of very fine Wedgwood china. On 16th September, 1813, Jane Austen wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra, in which she noted a visit with her brother and a niece to Wedgwood’s in London: “We then went to Wedgwoods where my brother and Fanny chose a Dinner Set, I believe the pattern is a small Lozenge in purple, between Lines of narrow Gold; - and it is to have the Crest.”
Finally, there is to be a book by Deborah Charlton about the findings of the dig, and you can watch a short film about it here. I must say I've found it all a great inspiration for my own writing - my next novel is inspired by Pride and Prejudice and another Steventon dig provides the setting for some time travel, and, of course, some hidden secrets!
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Summer has arrived in England - I've been to Bath a the weekend and couldn't resist taking some photos for my Bath album. The ones here show Henrietta Park and a walk I took up to Beechen Cliff. I hope you enjoy them!
Cherry tree in flower in Henrietta Park
A pigeon enjoys the sun
The magnolias are out!
House at the foot of Lyncombe Hill
View looking back to Bath from Jacob's Ladder
Looking through trees on Beechen Cliff
Dappled light through the trees
Wild garlic on the slopes of Beechen Cliff
Views from the top
Looking towards the Royal Crescent
Bath Abbey from Beechen Cliff
Bath from Beechen Cliff
Northanger Abbey - My illustration showing the Abbey from Beechen Cliff. Catherine Morland is taking a walk with Isabella and Henry Tilney.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The lovely author Nancy Kelley had this fab idea to swap posts this week and so I am thrilled to welcome Nancy here today! We were chatting about how very often, when writing, the characters in your novel can behave unpredictably, and as much as we try to keep them in line they go their own sweet way and start demanding to change the plot! Other problems occur when an author thinks she has resolved a carefully constructed plot, which suddenly falls apart because another character complains that they've been left out or have not been given a big enough voice or part in the unfolding story. The eventual plot can be something of a surprise!
Here is Nancy to tell us about her experiences of the surprise plot when writing Loving Miss Darcy.
Nancy is giving away an e-book copy of Loving Miss Darcy, open internationally - to enter, answer Nancy's question below by leaving a comment! The Giveaway is open for one week only - closes Tuesday, April 30th 2013.
Thanks to Jane for agreeing to trade places with me today. I love meeting new blog friends. Jane has posted on my blog, along with a giveaway; make sure to check it out!
Every author, from the ones who plan out every detail to the ones who just write as the story comes to them, is eventually surprised by something in their book. The characters start doing something you hadn’t anticipated, or a plot development arises that you weren’t expecting.
When I started writing Loving Miss Darcy, I was absolutely adamant that the main plot of the book would have nothing to do with George Wickham. This is Georgiana three years later, after all—wouldn’t she be over that by now? From the perspective of the author, I knew that several other books had already investigated that plot line and I wanted to do something different.
There followed six months of struggling with the book, trying to find the plot. Finally my good friend and critique partner told me I needed to explore Wickham. I fought and railed against it (for reasons not wholly creative), but finally gave in.
As soon as I allowed Georgiana the space to still feel shame for what Wickham had done, her personality and story unfolded beautifully. I hadn’t let her be herself, so I couldn’t see her story.
Now the Wickham debacle plays a central role in the plot of Loving Miss Darcy. Though it was three years ago, she knows others would be scandalized if they knew. In this rather poignant scene with Richard, she asks how she’s supposed to marry a man without letting him know all of who she is.
|Loving Miss Darcy - Nancy Kelley|
I do not deserve anyone! she thought morosely. I have made more mistakes than a young lady is usually allowed, and yet they pretend…
She paced in front of her fireplace, her fingers clenching and unclenching in the folds of her dressing gown. Elizabeth had asked her over a month ago if her reluctance to go to Town had anything to do with Wickham, and she had denied it.
How could I have been so blind to my own fears? And why do I still allow him such a hold over me?
The thought grew in her mind that she must make Richard see how little she deserved his regard. Knowing his habit of slipping out of the house early in the morning, she did not tarry in her own room. As soon as light touched the eastern horizon, she dressed as best she could without any help from Annie and walked silently down the stairs to the breakfast room. A word to the maid laying the fire ensured a cold repast would be laid on the table soon, along with Richard’s preferred coffee.
Richard did not disappoint. He appeared not long after the food, clearly dressed for the road. “Good morning, Cousin,” she greeted him.
He stood still for an instant before turning to face her. “Good morning, Georgiana. I did not think to see you up so early. Why are you hiding in the shadows?”
She stepped into the light and shook her head. “It is hardly my fault it is still so dark—it is your habit of sneaking out that drew me from my bed,” she chided him. “I could not let you leave with yesterday’s angry words hanging between us.”
Richard sat down and poured two cups of coffee. “Break your fast with me, Georgiana.”
Though phrased politely, Georgiana heard the note of command in his voice and sat in the chair opposite him. She could feel his gaze on her as she filled a plate with cheese and bread, but she did not return it.
“Look at me, Georgiana.” Reluctantly, she raised her eyes to his and sagged in relief when she saw no anger there, only confusion. “Our argument kept me up most of the night, and there is one point I do not understand.”
“What is that?”
“When you spoke of going to London for the Season, you still sounded… unenthusiastic.”
Georgiana bit her lip and pondered her answer. “Do I truly need a Season, Richard?” she finally asked, deciding at the last minute not to bring up Wickham unless she absolutely had to.
Richard leaned back in his chair. “I am afraid you do, Cuz.”
“But why?” Her own desperation took her by surprise, but she would not back down from the request.
His brow furrowed. “I thought the suggestion to have Kitty join us in Town for the Season had allayed most of your concerns.”
She shrugged and ran a finger over the pattern of the tablecloth. “Most, but not all. Kitty is so much… friendlier than I am. She does not worry what people will think of her.”
Richard took a swallow of coffee. “I see. And you do?” Georgiana nodded. “Tell me what it is about London that bothers you so much.”
Georgiana clenched her hands together in front of her. The food on her plate remained untouched, but she had no appetite for it. “You know enough of my past to guess, surely,” she said finally, seeing there was no way around it.
A gravelly sound caught her ear, and she looked up at Richard. His hand clutched the handle of his mug so tightly that she honestly feared he would break it. “Richard?”
He set the mug down carefully and spread his hand out, palm down, on the table top. “You cannot allow him to control your life, Georgiana.”
She raised her eyebrows. “How can I look these young men in the face and pretend I have nothing to hide, that I am as innocent and unblemished as any of the other ladies they might dance with?”
Richard’s face turned an alarming shade of red. “You are innocent.”
From anyone else, this level of anger would have quieted Georgiana. However, she was upset enough and trusted Richard enough that instead, she matched his vehemence with all the bitterness she felt. “Oh yes, of course I am—I am innocent of all but foolishness, but you know as well as I that not everyone will see it that way. How can we know which of those young men would not turn away from me when they found out the truth?”
“They need never know.”
She laughed, though she felt no amusement. “Oh, that is not fair to them, not fair at all,” she protested. “You cannot expect me to keep a secret like this from my husband. And if I am as innocent as you and my brother constantly proclaim, then why should it be a secret at all?”
Richard stared at her, gape-mouthed for some minutes. “I do not like to admit it, but you have a point,” he finally said.
Georgiana spread jam on her thick slice of bread and took a bite before speaking again. “So I ask again, how can I know which gentlemen would understand and stand by my side, and which would run, or worse, try to ruin me?
The room was quiet for a very long time, and finally Georgiana wiped her hands on a serviette and rose from the table. “You see why I do not look on the idea of a Season with much pleasure,” she said.
In the end, it is the threat of scandal that drives the final confrontation and climax. If I hadn’t let Georgiana surprise me, the book likely would never have been finished. What do you think? How much long-term impact would Wickham have had on Georgiana?
Nancy Kelley—Janeite, blogger, and chocoholic—is the author of two Jane Austen sequels, His Good Opinion: A Mr. Darcy Novel and Loving Miss Darcy. Her third novel, Against His Will, will come out in fall of 2013.
If Nancy could possess any fictional device, it would be a Time-Turner. Then perhaps she could juggle a full-time library job, writing, and blogging; and still find time for sleep and a life. Until then, she lives on high doses of tea and substitutes multiple viewings of Doctor Who for a social life.
You can find Nancy on Twitter @Nancy_Kelley , at nancykelleywrites.com and on Indiejane.org. She also blogs regularly about Doctor Who for Smitten by Britain.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
|George Romney's House|
I took a walk to Hampstead Heath with a friend this week and took a lot of photos. The day had started fine but ominous looking clouds soon covered the periwinkle sky. Nothing could take away the beauty of the Heath and the surrounding area - it was wonderful to be outside again and looking at trees and plants springing forth. The magnolias in Golders Hill Park are not quite out but there were daffodils and irises, and blossom on the trees.
|The Pergola, Hampstead Heath|
|Beautiful twisting trunks of Magnolias-not quite out!|
|This reminds me of Daphne du Maurier's 'The Birds'|
|A view of the Pergola, Hampstead Heath|
|The Pergola, Hampstead Heath|
|Hampstead Heath filled with trees that could have been drawn by Arthur Rackham|
|The Pergola, Hampstead Heath|
The other book I'm reading and finding hard to put down to get on with any work is Justine Picardie's Daphne. It's so beautifully written, and a fascinating story about Daphne du Maurier's passionate interest in Bramwell Bronte - all intertwined with Daphne's life and books. I love Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel and Frenchman's Creek, and Justine's book feels like visiting an old friend.
At every turn we could have bumped into Daphne du Maurier who lived at Cannon Hall as a child or J M Barrie who wrote The Admirable Crichton, in which her parents acted. And was that Henry James we spotted as he rounded the corner? I could smell the paint as I passed Romney's House and I swear I saw him watching through the window, cleaning his brushes on a paint-stained rag.
A lovely day - I must go back soon when the leaves are out on the trees!
Monday, April 8, 2013
Jane Austen refers often to the seasons in her writing and with spring, it seems, the season often heralds a change or action of some sort. In this first example, Mrs Dashwood is thinking about Barton Cottage and the changes she might make to the building when the weather improves.
From Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility:
With the size and furniture of the house Mrs. Dashwood was upon the whole well satisfied; for though her former style of life rendered many additions to the latter indispensable, yet to add and improve was a delight to her; and she had at this time ready money enough to supply all that was wanted of greater elegance to the apartments. "As for the house itself, to be sure," said she, "it is too small for our family, but we will make ourselves tolerably comfortable for the present, as it is too late in the year for improvements. Perhaps in the spring, if I have plenty of money, as I dare say I shall, we may think about building. These parlours are both too small for such parties of our friends as I hope to see often collected here; and I have some thoughts of throwing the passage into one of them with perhaps a part of the other, and so leave the remainder of that other for an entrance; this, with a new drawing-room which may be easily added, and a bed-chamber and garret above, will make it a very snug little cottage. I could wish the stairs were handsome. But one must not expect everything; though I suppose it would be no difficult matter to widen them. I shall see how much I am before-hand with the world in the spring, and we will plan our improvements accordingly."
The next extract is from Northanger Abbey. Isabella Thorpe writes to Catherine Morland from Bath. Jane Austen uses the season to illustrate Isabella's silly and shallow character. Although she professes one minute to be missing Catherine and expressing her love for Catherine's brother, in the next second she is talking about fashion and hats.
My dearest Catherine, I received your two kind letters with the greatest delight, and have a thousand apologies to make for not answering them sooner. I really am quite ashamed of my idleness; but in this horrid place one can find time for nothing. I have had my pen in my hand to begin a letter to you almost every day since you left Bath, but have always been prevented by some silly trifler or other. Pray write to me soon, and direct to my own home. Thank God, we leave this vile place tomorrow. Since you went away, I have had no pleasure in it — the dust is beyond anything; and everybody one cares for is gone. I believe if I could see you I should not mind the rest, for you are dearer to me than anybody can conceive. I am quite uneasy about your dear brother, not having heard from him since he went to Oxford; and am fearful of some misunderstanding. Your kind offices will set all right: he is the only man I ever did or could love, and I trust you will convince him of it. The spring fashions are partly down; and the hats the most frightful you can imagine. I hope you spend your time pleasantly, but am afraid you never think of me.
Lastly, from Pride and Prejudice, Jane has become engaged to Mr Bingley and finds out that his sister Caroline had done everything to keep them apart last spring:
|Mr Bingley and Jane Bennet|
"I suspected as much," replied Elizabeth. "But how did he account for it?"
"It must have been his sister's doing. They were certainly no friends to his acquaintance with me, which I cannot wonder at, since he might have chosen so much more advantageously in many respects. But when they see, as I trust they will, that their brother is happy with me, they will learn to be contented, and we shall be on good terms again; though we can never be what we once were to each other."
"That is the most unforgiving speech," said Elizabeth, "that I ever heard you utter. Good girl! It would vex me, indeed, to see you again the dupe of Miss Bingley's pretended regard."
"Would you believe it, Lizzy, that when he went to town last November, he really loved me, and nothing but a persuasion of my being indifferent would have prevented his coming down again?"
"He made a little mistake, to be sure; but it is to the credit of his modesty."
This naturally introduced a panegyric from Jane on his diffidence, and the little value he put on his own good qualities.
Elizabeth was pleased to find that he had not betrayed the interference of his friend; for, though Jane had the most generous and forgiving heart in the world, she knew it was a circumstance which must prejudice her against him.
"I am certainly the most fortunate creature that ever existed!" cried Jane. "Oh! Lizzy, why am I thus singled from my family, and blessed above them all! If I could but see you as happy! If there were but such another man for you!"
"If you were to give me forty such men, I never could be so happy as you. Till I have your disposition, your goodness, I never can have your happiness. No, no, let me shift for myself; and perhaps, if I have very good luck, I may meet with another Mr. Collins in time."
Monday, April 1, 2013
I hope you're all having a lovely Easter! I am absolutely delighted to welcome Shannon Winslow, a fellow Austen Author, to my blog - she's celebrating the release of her new novel, Return to Longbourn, and she is sharing an exclusive, never-before-seen extract with us today! Over to you, Shannon.
I was delighted when Jane invited me to stop here on my blog tour for my new novel Return to Longbourn. Writing this book was an absolute joy! It was such a treat to have an excuse to spend time with Darcy, Elizabeth, and the rest of the Pride and Prejudice cast again, and to revisit Longbourn, Netherfield, and Pemberley.
I pick up the story again about five years later (after the end of The Darcys of Pemberley), when Mr. Bennet sadly passes away. With Mr. Tristan Collins (the new heir to the Longbourn estate) on his way from America to claim his property, Mrs. Bennet hatches her plan. The man simply must marry one of her daughters. Nothing else will do. But will it be Mary or Kitty singled out for this dubious honor?
Neither of them is too eager at first. Kitty cannot imagine how being married to anybody by the name of Collins could be even tolerably agreeable. And, by this time, Mary is comfortably settled in her chosen life as governess to the family at Netherfield. Well, perhaps I shouldn’t have used the word “comfortably,” for her employer, Mr. Harrison Farnsworth, is not an easy man to get along with. That was apparent from the first moment Mary met him, four years past:
|Return to Longbourn - Shannon Winslow|
In those former days especially, the atmosphere at Netherfield altered perceptibly with the master’s presence. An air of apprehension crept over the place from top to bottom, as if the house itself held its breath in anticipation of some unknown outburst or accident. Thus, it required nothing more than Mr. Farnsworth’s suddenly coming into a room to start his wife and servants fidgeting and his children forgetting how to behave.
Mary had observed the phenomenon from her earliest days on the premises, and she could not help but feel fiercely sympathetic on Mrs. Farnsworth’s account.
“So, this is the new governess,” declared the lord and master at his first setting eyes on Mary those years ago.
Mr. Farnsworth was not an especially imposing man to look at, being of no more than average height and build, yet his autocratic tone made even this simple statement of fact sound like a challenge – daring her to deny the charge.
Rising to face him, Mary had only nodded curtly in response.
“Yes, my dear,” his wife, who looked more frayed about the edges than usual, hastened to say. “This is Miss Bennet, Miss Mary Bennet from Longbourn. You will recall that I told you about her. She is a most accomplished and genteel young woman, and I am sure she will do very well by the children.”
“I will be the judge of that, if you please, Madam.”
“Naturally,” Mrs. Farnsworth murmured, dropping her eyes to her lap, where her hands were tightly clasped.
A maid, who had come in with the tea tray, cringed as she set it down with more clatter than she intended.
“Must you make such an infernal racket?” Mr. Farnsworth barked, darting an eye in the direction of the offender.
“Sorry, sir,” said the maid as she shrank from the room.
“The rest of you, out as well,” he said, pointing to the door. “Mrs. Farnsworth, kindly take your children and go. I wish to speak to Miss Bennet.”
Mr. Farnsworth had once been a captain in the Navy, so his military bearing did not surprise Mary. Whilst the others scrambled to obey, she studied her new employer, taking his features apart one by one – the bristling dark hair, the deliberately narrowed cobalt eyes, the hard set of his mouth, and the prematurely graying beard. The beard, she told herself with devilish satisfaction, had probably been grown by way of disguising what would ultimately prove to be a weak chin. Yes, that must be the case.
It was a trick she sometimes used to steady herself when confronted with an ominous problem, mentally dissecting it into a collection of smaller, more manageable bits. In the brutish case before her, she perceived one part tyrant and one part diffident boy, both covered over with a quantity of practiced intimidation. The gentleman did not appear so alarming under this analysis. He was formidable, not by true essence, she concluded. It was rather by considerable effort, as if he could only bolster his own confidence by cowering others. Judging from the prodigious scowl he wore, Mr. Farnsworth had next set himself the task of cowering her.
“Well, Miss Bennet,” he commenced, slowly striding across the room with hands clasped behind his back and a cool, sideways gaze leveled at her. “Let us come to a right understanding at once. My wife may have engaged your services, but you shall stay or go according to my verdict. Is that clear?”
I’m proud to report that Mary stood her ground, earning a degree of respect and a wary truce with her employer. Then, when his wife died, much of the fight seemed to drain out of Mr. Farnsworth. The effects of a tormented conscience, perhaps, for treating the woman badly while she lived? These days, his moods are so changeable that Mary never knows what to expect when they meet – the old tyrant or the new man of enlightenment. The only truly safe course is to stay out of his way completely.
So maybe Mary should consider making a play for Mr. Tristan Collins after all. Then she might end by being mistress of Longbourn instead of a governess forever. On the face of things, it shouldn’t be a difficult choice, especially when her returning cousin proves to be surprisingly handsome and excellent company. Still, it wouldn’t be easy to leave Netherfield and the three children she’s become attached to. And now Kitty has taken an interest in Mr. Collins as well, setting herself up as Mary’s rival.
What do you think? Should Mary open herself up – to the possibility of romance, but also to the risk of emotional ruin? Does she stand a chance with Tristan Collins against her younger, prettier sister? Or is she fated to find her future at Netherfield?
I didn’t know the answers myself when I began, but I’ll tell you this much. The story started pure Jane Austen, and somewhere along the way it took a turn for Jane Eyre.
Shannon Winslow, her two sons now grown, devotes much of her time to her diverse interests in music, literature, and the visual arts – writing claiming the lion’s share of her creative energies in recent years.
Ms. Winslow has published three novels to date. In 2011, she debuted with The Darcys of Pemberley, a popular sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, For Myself Alone a stand-alone Austenesque story, followed in 2012. And now comes Return to Longbourn, the next chapter of her Pride and Prejudice series.
Shannon lives with her husband in the log home they built in the countryside south of Seattle, where she writes and paints in her studio facing Mt. Rainier.
Learn more at Shannon’s website/blog (www.shannonwinslow.com), and follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Austen Authors.
Thank you for joining me today, Shannon, on your blog tour and for sharing such a fantastic excerpt! What will happen next for Mary Bennet, I wonder?!!!
Monday, March 25, 2013
I have such a treat in store for you today-I'm delighted to welcome the author Maria Grace to the blog! She's celebrating the release of her new novel, All the Appearance of Goodness and I'm so glad she's had time to stop here on her blog tour. Over to you, Maria!
Thanks for hosting me Jane. I’m so excited to be able to share an excerpt from my latest book, All the Appearance of Goodness. It is the third volume of the Given Good Principles series, the long awaited volume where Darcy and Elizabeth finally meet.
Though their experiences in the first two books have helped them to overcome their pride and prejudice, all is not smooth sailing for Darcy and Elizabeth. What is a young woman to do? One handsome young man has all the goodness, while the other the appearance of it. How is she to separate the gentleman from the cad?
When Darcy joins his friend, Bingley on a trip to Meryton, the last thing on his mind is finding a wife. Meeting Elizabeth Bennet changes all that, but a rival for his affections appears from a most unlikely quarter. He must overcome his naturally reticent disposition if he is to have a chance of winning her favor.
Elizabeth’s thoughts turn to love and marriage after her sister, Mary’s, engagement. In a few short weeks she goes from knowing no eligible young men, to being courted by two. Both are handsome gentleman, but one conceals secrets and the other conceals his regard. Will she determine which is which before she commits to the wrong one?
Excerpt from Chapter 2:
Their preparations to go into town attracted much notice. Soon all five sisters donned gloves and bonnets and headed out.
“I am off to the linen draper to find ribbons and lace and new patterns.” Kitty skipped ahead, basket swinging at her side. She turned to face her sisters and walked backwards. “Mama asked me to attend to her gown—”
“What of mine?” Lydia folded her arms across her chest.
“I have done so many of yours already.”
Lydia stomped. “You promised.”
Kitty turned around. “It will be finished in time for the assembly.”
“And the other one?”
“Lydia,” Mary said firmly and wrapped her arm in Lydia’s.
“You will tell me to be patient—but I do not want to be patient. I do not like patience!”
Elizabeth looked away. Lydia was not the only one who disliked patience.
“It is a necessary virtue.” Mary smiled a lopsided smile and shrugged.
Kitty called over her shoulder. “I will sew as quickly as I can.”
Lydia screwed her face into an ugly scowl.
“You will come with us to visit Miss Bingley, will you not, Lydia?” Jane asked.
“Oh, yes! I have had no entertainment since the Miss Carvers and Mrs. Forester left.” Lydia pulled away from Mary. “Oh, do not glare at me. I like to have fun, but I learned my lesson. Did you not notice that I did not ask if she has a brother? I do not care, so do not tell me.”
Elizabeth hesitated and stared at Lydia. How had she neglected to note Lydia’s failure to inquire after the possibility of eligible young men? She needed to pay more attention to her youngest sister.
“I think Miss Bingley might appreciate a bit of fun. It is difficult to come into a new place,” Jane said.
“Well then, let us hurry.” Kitty stepped up her pace for the last half block to the Green Swan Inn.
They paused at the base of the stairs to straighten their bonnets and brush the road dust from their skirts.
Jane led them into the parlor. The room was snug and neat, decorated in an older style. The furnishings were worn, but not worn out. Shelves along the far wall were populated with a few books that probably knew little use. Lydia would call it shabby, but Elizabeth found it cozy. Only three patrons occupied the space, two older men playing cards and a fashionably dressed young woman sitting in a sunny corner, focused on her needlework.
“There she is.” Jane approached her. “Miss Bingley.”
Miss Bingley jumped and looked over her shoulder. “Miss Bennet.”
“I brought my sisters with me.” Jane beckoned them nearer. “This is Elizabeth, Mary and Catherine—”
“Kitty if you please,” she interjected with a quick curtsey.
“Certainly, Miss Kitty.” Louisa stood and curtsied.
“And my youngest sister, Lydia.”
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Will you not sit with me? The innkeeper will bring tea soon.”
Jane looked over her shoulder. “Were you expecting other company? We do not want to intrude.”
“It would be no trouble for us to return later, or on another day, if you like,” Kitty added.
“No, no, not at all! It is only my brother and his friend. I am certain he would not want you to leave on his account. He is a great lover of company and has wanted to meet you since I first told him of you. Please stay.”
Miss Bingley looked so lonely, only the coldest of hearts could have denied her.
They moved several chairs into a close group as the innkeeper arrived with the tea service.
Jane sat near Miss Bingley. “What do you think of Meryton?”
Miss Bingley handed her a cup. “I find it charming.”
“It is nothing to the diversions of London, I suppose.” Lydia sniffed.
“Oh, I meant no insult at all,” Miss Bingley stammered. “I quite like the quietness of this place. The hurried pace in town is not what I prefer.”
“We take no offense, Miss Bingley.” Elizabeth flashed a brief scowl at Lydia. “Different places accommodate different tastes. I am pleased Meryton will suit you.”
“Do you know when you will take the house?” Mary folded her hands in her lap.
“Not yet, but soon, I think. My brother meets with the landowner this evening to finalize the plans.”
“What fun to keep your own house!” Kitty clapped softly. “Will you be allowed to decorate?”
“I hardly expect my brother to be interested in redecorating a place he only leases.” Miss Bingley pressed her lips tightly.
Elizabeth suspected she struggled not to laugh.
“You shall get to do that when you are married, though,” Lydia said.
“I hope to.” Miss Bingley twisted the pearl ring on her left hand. “He is on the continent attending to business matters. I shall be here until he returns.”
“How long you do expect that to be?” Mary’s cheeks colored.
Miss Bingley gripped her hands. “His last letter suggested it might be as much as a year.”
Kitty frowned slightly. “It must be difficult to be away from him for so long. If you do not mind my asking, what is his business?”
Miss Bingley caught her breath and bit her lip. “He inherited his father’s estate—”
“I meant nothing untoward by my question. Please do not be offended!” Kitty stammered. “Our Uncle Gardiner in London is in trade, and I just wondered if Mr. Hurst’s business might be similar.”
The little creases at the corners of Miss Bingley’s eyes disappeared. “I fear I am a bit sensitive. My sister objects to Mr. Hurst’s connections in trade. I am sorry if I have offended.”
“It is forgotten.” Jane smiled.
“You have a sister?” Elizabeth asked. “Will she join you here?”
“No. She stays at my brother’s house in London. Country life holds little appeal for her.”
“What a shame! She shall never know how jolly a country assembly can be.” Kitty traded wide-eyed glances with Lydia.
“What are the assemblies like?”
Lydia giggled. “They are ever so much fun!”
“Well, that is a relief to hear!” A warm voice called from the doorway.
Two gentlemen stood just inside the parlor, and one looked very familiar.
“Charles!” Miss Bingley hurried to his side. “Please, allow me to present my brother, Mr. Bingley, and his friend, Mr. Darcy. May I present my friends? These are the Miss Bennets of Longbourn—Miss Jane Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary, Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia.”
They rose and curtsied as Miss Bingley introduced them.
The men bowed and followed Miss Bingley in.
Mr. Bingley took a seat beside his sister. “How kind of you to call on Louisa!”
Mr. Darcy sat in the lone remaining chair, next to Elizabeth. Miss Bingley poured tea for the men, and soon the conversation resumed with Kitty and Lydia detailing the last assembly to a rapt audience.
Elizabeth felt Mr. Darcy’s gaze on her. He stirred in his seat, hands laced together. Odd that he should have been quite glib in their earlier encounter, yet so aloof here. “Did you enjoy your share of my father’s raspberries, sir?” she asked softly, eyes on her sisters.
“Of what do you accuse me, Miss Elizabeth?” He glanced at her. One corner of his lips drew up.
“The last time I saw you, you sported drops of berry juice on your fingers and on your chin. I fear you are a most ineffective thief.” She arched an eyebrow.
He colored and looked aside. His brows drew together until a deep crease formed between. “I suppose I must practice more. Pray tell, does your father have another garden I may sample from? Preferably one not so far from the main road.” He ran a finger along the edge of his cravat.
“I think not. He prefers to keep them well hidden from the likes of gentlemen such as yourself.”
Mr. Darcy squirmed in his seat.
Guilt nipped at her heel. She should not tease.
Darcy snorted. His cheek twitched with the hint of a smile.
Then again, perhaps he was capable of enjoying a good joke after all.
Bingley regaled them with yet another amusing tale. What a contrast to his reserved, quiet friend.
“We meet tonight to finalize Bingley’s plans for Netherfield. He and his sister will soon be your neighbors,” Darcy whispered.
“And you, sir, now that his business is completed, will you stay on with him or return to your own estate?”
He studied her with piercing eyes.
What did he seek? Only her old music master had scrutinized her so. Mama had dismissed him for it, too. A tiny shudder raced down the back of her neck, though she was not certain why.
“I believe I will stay on for a few weeks at least.”
“I pray you will find it pleasant. Though we cannot boast the sophistication of London, many find Meryton a welcome respite from better society.”
“I am sure I will.” He shuffled his feet and glanced about the room. “Are you acquainted with Mr. Bascombe?”
“A little. Why do you ask?”
“I prefer to know the reputations of those with whom I do business. What sort of man do you find Mr. Bascombe to be? What is his reputation in the community?”
Elizabeth frowned. “I do not wish to be branded a gossip.”
“So, your opinion of him is hardly positive.” His eyebrow rose.
“What have your dealings with him suggested?”
Darcy pressed his lips together. His eyes drifted to the ceiling roses. “Netherfield is clearly in need of repairs. Either he does not keep up his property, or he is short of the capital needed to make them.”
She dipped her head and blinked.
“The condition of the tenant farms, the cottages and outbuildings suggests a man who is neither interested in the details of management, nor in the lives of his tenants.”
“My sisters and I regularly call upon several of his cottagers—”
“He does not attend to their needs, but allows others in the neighborhood to fulfill his responsibilities.” Darcy’s gaze held hers.
His eyes were striking—and expressive—startlingly so. She looked away.
“Would his tenants agree with me?” He leaned in closer.
“I do not believe they would disagree,” she whispered, cheeks uncomfortably hot.
“I have heard his name spoken in several establishments in town, with little fondness.”
“But neither with animosity. He is not a quarrelsome man.”
“Nor is he a generous one.”
She turned to focus on a carriage passing by the window. “He is a proper gentleman.”
“Faint praise, indeed.”
“It is the best praise I can offer. Please do not press me further in this matter.”
“Of course, forgive me. I appreciate your assistance. What would you prefer to speak of?”
She bit her bottom lip and cocked her head. “Pray tell me, do you grow raspberries on your estate?”
Several hours later, Darcy and Bingley waited in the best room of the public house nearest the Green Swan. The tables around them were filled with loud men, talking, laughing and eating. Smells of food and hard work mingled into something less than appealing. Darcy reached into his pocket and pulled out the leather case containing his silverware. The plates on the other tables appeared none too clean as it was—eating off the forks in this place was not to be borne. The serving girl dropped two pints in front of them.
“Not the service or the victuals to which you are accustomed.” Bingley lifted his pint and took a long draw from the tankard.
“My preferences are not the relevant ones here.” Darcy examined his mug. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped the lip. “The real question is whether or not you are comfortable in these environs or will you pine for the refinements of London in a few short months? The society here may be too confined and unvarying for you. A lease on a house like this one is a serious commitment.”
Bingley parked his tankard on the table. “Three times you repeated that today. Rest assured; I take your point. I find country manners charming and am never as at home as I am in the country.”
“As long as you are certain. Bascombe has arrived.”
“How did you know? You could not possibly have seen him.” Bingley peered over Darcy’s shoulder.
“His nasal whine.” Darcy did not look up. “Listen, it carries to all points in the room.”
Bingley paused and cocked his head. “So, it does.” He laughed and waved to Bascombe.
“Good evening, gentlemen. I took the liberty to instruct the girl to bring three plates.” Bascombe dropped into the chair with all the grace of a sack of chicken feed. He spilled over the edges of the seat. The wooden joints groaned under him.
“Capital.” Bingley bowed from his shoulders.
Bascombe waved at a passing serving girl and pointed toward the pints already on the table.
She returned a moment later and bounced a third mug in front of him. Bascombe took a long drink and wiped his mouth on his coat sleeve.
Darcy turned his head and shielded his eyes with his hand.
“The neighborhood is to your liking?” Bascombe asked.
“Very much so! Several of the local ladies have already visited my sister to welcome her.”
“I am not surprised. Meryton is renowned for its friendliness.” Bascombe leaned forward on his elbows. “I should warn you, not all the families here may be suitable company for your sister.”
The server appeared, balancing three plates along her food-stained sleeve. She dropped them and utensils on the table with a grunt and turned away before they could comment.
Bascombe crammed his napkin between collar and cravat and plucked a knife and fork from the center of the table.
Darcy unrolled his utensils and polished them with his handkerchief. He carefully slipped a napkin into his collar and watched Bingley do the same.
“Indeed?” Bingley asked.
Bascombe sawed at his meat. “Absolutely, every neighborhood has its families to avoid. We are no different. My advice, keep a wide berth between your sister and the Bennet family.”
Darcy straightened in his seat and drummed his fingers along his leg. “Why?”
“You have not heard? Even they have supporters, I suppose.” He rolled his eyes. “My previous tenant found them unsuitable companions for his young sisters, not that those girls were exactly proper themselves.”
How ironic. Miss Elizabeth refused to speak of the man who so freely voiced his opinions of her. Darcy ground his teeth until they squeaked together.
“The eldest Bennet girl is quite lovely, I grant. Our curate pays the plain middle daughter a great deal of attention, though I cannot make out why. The younger girls,” he flicked his hand, “are nigh unmanageable. The entire town knows that the youngest one attempted an elopement, stopped by the next eldest, no less, not above two months ago. Such a thing taints the whole family—”
Darcy struck the table with the flat of his hand. The tankards rattled. “We are here to discuss the house and the lease, not the neighbors.”
Bingley nodded. “Quite.”
Bascombe pulled back and placed his fork and knife along the plate. He rubbed his palms together. “As you say, sir.” He eyed them narrowly. His brows rose, and he cocked his head. “You already met them and found a bit o’ that sort o’ muslin to your liking?” A lewd smile twisted his mouth.
“Enough!” Darcy growled. “I take umbrage at your vulgar insinuation. If you do not cease, this conversation is at an end.”
“Forgive me, sir. I mistook your meaning. I meant no offense.”
Darcy grunted. If he walked out now, he would be throwing Bingley to that wolf, Bascombe, to be fleeced. He could not permit that. Though it took all his patience, he would stay.
“Yes, to business then.” Bascombe cleared his throat and made a show of turning toward Bingley. “You and your sister toured the house and grounds. What say you of my humble home?”
“The manor is certainly ample for our needs.” Bingley sent a pleading look at Darcy.
“However…” Darcy leaned in on his elbows.
Bingley relaxed into his chair.
Though Bingley might be at home in a ballroom, he was utterly lost in business negotiations. Here, Darcy was at his ease. He suppressed a smile. “Several matters need to be addressed before my friend will consider letting the place.” He removed a folded paper from his coat pocket.
“I see, sir.” Bascombe pulled at his cravat. “I cannot imagine any impediment to a speedy settlement.”
“As you say.” Darcy unfolded the paper and smoothed it on the table.
“What? No need for such formality—” Bascombe covered the list with his meaty hand.
“Do not trifle with me.” Darcy snatched the notes and glared. “You and I are both well aware of the shortcomings of Netherfield Park.”
“Who are you? Bingley’s solicitor?”
Darcy rolled his eyes.
“You are a candidate for his steward, then? Well, you are not needed. The lease does not include—”
Darcy shoved his chair back. The legs squealed against the floorboards. A man who resorted to insults was not one with whom he wished to deal. “We can discuss the terms I have here and come to an agreement, or we can leave now. The choice is yours.”
“Mr. Bingley! This is highly irregular. I am not accustomed—”
“To treating clients with courtesy and respect?” Bingley pushed back from the table. “I asked my friend’s advice in this matter. If you will not treat him with the consideration due a gentleman of his standing, our conversation is at an end.”
Bingley was a quick study.
“Do not be so hasty, sir. Of course, I would welcome his interfere—ah—assistance.” Bascombe took a deep draw of his pint.
“Let us begin with the matter of the roof…” Darcy tapped the list.
Two hours of heated negotiations followed. Bascombe argued, pounded the table, turned red in the face, and capitulated to Darcy’s requirements. Finally, when only one other table of patrons remained, the papers were signed and Bascombe trundled off, muttering invectives under his breath.
“I must say that was prodigious good fun.” Bingley drew on his gloves and dusted off his hat.
“I am glad you found it so rewarding.” Darcy smirked and led the way outside. “Do you still find country manners charming?”
“Not his.” Bingley sniggered.
The night air held lingering traces of the day’s heat, mingled with reminders of the horse traffic along the main street. A full moon lit the street for the pedestrians.
“I am not sure I would choose him as an example of country manners, though,” Bingley said. “I believe the Miss Bennets a much better standard of comparison.”
“What think you of the insinuations he made of their family?”
Darcy deftly avoided Bingley’s gaze. An imprudent younger sister? What a hypocrite he would be to condemn another family for a misbehaved relation! The Bennet sisters’ graciousness toward Miss Bingley—and the fact they did not throw themselves at Bingley and himself—spoke of their character much more than the foolish actions of one. He tugged his sleeves. “I believe Bradley would say it is best to judge them on their own merits, not on the prattle of a man like Bascombe.”
“Sensible advice.” Bingley straightened his cravat.
Bingley liked one of the sisters. Naturally, he found a new angel wherever he went. Which one? Or had he even decided yet? Darcy shook his head. Bingley was free to like any of them he chose, except Miss Elizabeth.
The next morning, Darcy and Bingley left on an early ride. On their return, they found three of the Miss Bennets with Miss Bingley in the inn’s parlor.
“Please come and join us.” Miss Bingley beckoned them in
They removed their hats as the ladies rose.
“Good day.” Bingley bowed.
Darcy did likewise.
“Good day.” The ladies curtsied and returned to their seats.
Bingley settled between his sister and Miss Kitty. Darcy’s cheeks heated as he sat beside Miss Elizabeth.
“I told them everything has been settled for the house.” Miss Bingley beamed.
“We will take possession in a fortnight,” Bingley added.
Miss Elizabeth glanced at her sisters. “If it is agreeable to you, our mother wishes to hold a dinner on your behalf. She thinks it a fitting way to welcome you to the neighborhood and be introduced among us.”
“How very kind! We would be most delighted.” Bingley sat a little straighter in his chair.
Miss Kitty clapped softly. “Mama hosts the most delightful dinners—everyone here will agree. We dine with four and twenty families! You must tell me your favorite dishes. She wants to make sure to serve them at dinner.”
Darcy felt himself smile in spite of his best effort not to. Miss Kitty’s exuberance reminded him comfortably of Georgiana.
“You too, of course, Mr. Darcy, if you will be continuing on here for a while.” Miss Kitty added.
Bingley turned to Darcy, eyebrow lifted. The ladies all looked at him.
A flush crept along Darcy’s neck. “I…that is…yes, I will be staying for some time yet. Thank you.”
“Excellent.” Miss Elizabeth smiled.
Was her smile for him or mere politeness? Hopefully the former.
“Now, we must wait for our father to visit so we may officially begin our acquaintance.” Miss Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled.
Bingley laughed. “Rest assured, I will welcome him when he does.”
After another quarter hour, the Bennet ladies left, and Darcy excused himself to attend to a stack of correspondence just arrived from Pemberley.
Upstairs, seated at an awkward little writing desk shoved in the corner near the sunny window, Darcy leafed through the packet of letters. He responded to several.
“Beastly hot window,” he muttered under his breath and mopped his forehead with his handkerchief. Groaning, he stretched out the cramps in his legs.
If he could only walk in the cool woods now—as he had when Miss Elizabeth first appeared like a fairy-tale creature out of the woods.
He chuckled. Perhaps he had found the mythical creature of which his cousin Fitzwilliam spoke. What would Fitzwilliam think of the Bennets?
He pressed his pen to paper.
Come quickly. She has four sisters.
Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.
She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.
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Thank you so much for joining me today on my blog, Maria, and for sharing such a fabulous excerpt from your book!