I'd like to wish you all a Happy Easter - I'm having a bit of a break from blogging to spend time with my family - I hope you all have a lovely holiday. This is quite a long post but one thing seemed to lead to another! I'm very busy writing another book at the moment and drawing on lots of research which is always lots of fun. A lot of the action takes place in Bath so I'm hoping to spend some time there over the holiday period.
This week, one of the lovely things that happened was 'meeting' Jennifer Duke and discovering her blog. She was born in England and even attended the the Abbey school as Jane Austen did. Her time there sparked an interest in all things Regency and a love of Jane Austen. Jennifer lives in Australia now and told me that although she loves Sydney, she still gets homesick for England. She wrote to ask me if I would do a question and answer for her blog, which I was thrilled to do. Here's the link: The Bennet Sisters Thank you very much Jennifer, I really enjoyed your interview.
This time last year I had Easter with Mr Darcy - click on the Derbyshire, Chatsworth and Haddon Hall links on the left of my blog if you'd like to see what a lovely time I had. When we were there most of Chatsworth House was covered in scaffolding as it is undergoing major restoration - Chatsworth Masterplan. My sister phoned me yesterday to tell me how she'd seen a little about how the work is progressing on a programme we have here called Countryfile. You can watch it here on the BBC iplayer Countryfile. Apart from gorgeous walks around Dovedale, there is some footage from Chatsworth showing how the house is being restored and the stone cleaned. It looks very beautiful. I particularly loved the gilded window frames which are original to the house. I've been there when the sun is at a certain height and the effect upon the house is stunning. I would love to see it again when the work is finished. I should imagine it is spectacular.
This next little piece of writing was inspired by the walk I took along the River Derwent when I was writing Mr Darcy's Secret.
Elizabeth was more worried about the impending visit from Mr Darcy’s aunt than she was prepared to let on, but was determined not to dwell on any misgivings she might have. There was quite enough to deal with simply in organizing such details as food and menus, and which bedchamber Lady Catherine was to occupy, without being anxious about any conversation they might share. At least Miss de Burgh, Lady Catherine’s daughter would not be accompanying her. Apparently, Anne was staying behind with her companion Mrs Jenkinson in the hope that the change of air and spa water would do her some good. Sickly, pale and cross, the spoiled cousin of Mr Darcy had never enjoyed good health, and Elizabeth knew that no expense would be spared in the efforts to revive the spirits of this despondent creature, though she considered it unlikely that any amount of money or treatments would make a jot of difference. Privately, Elizabeth felt quite sorry for the girl who had never been allowed to live a normal life. In her opinion Anne had not only been spoiled, but had also been fussed over and mollycoddled to the point of suffocation. No wonder the girl was awkward in company and socially inept – she was never allowed to speak and would not dare oppose her mother’s beliefs or statements on any topic. Besides all this, Lady Catherine’s hopes for an alliance between her daughter and Mr Darcy had been thwarted, and as such, Lizzy was sure that Anne would avoid coming to Pemberley altogether if she possibly could. At least Lady Catherine was not due for another week; Lizzy would have time to fully prepare.
Elizabeth’s own spirits were subdued. The Christmas celebrations and Georgiana’s engagement, not to mention the awkwardness that subsisted between Lizzy and Darcy as a result, had all taken its toll. Mrs Darcy was feeling tired, and lacking in energy, which was so extraordinary that she felt some concern. Determined to find a solution she decided she was in need of some fresh air and exercise; being cooped up inside because of the bad weather was never good. She formed a plan to walk to Lambton in the afternoon, but made a decision not to inform anyone else. Eliza had a feeling that Mr Darcy might not approve of his wife going about the Pemberley estates unaccompanied and without a carriage, whatever he might once have thought about her eyes being brightened by the exercise of walking. He need never know; his time was taken up with estate matters on Wednesdays.
Donning her sturdiest boots and a beloved cloak from her Longbourn days, which was warm and comfortable if not considered as smart as others in her new wardrobe, she set off. Out of doors, Elizabeth instantly felt better in the fresh air with a light rain misting her features, the smell of Derbyshire limestone and the scent of moss sprinkled like green jewels upon stone walls assailing her senses. Following the river on the shortcut to Lambton bridge, she took pleasure in observing the riverbank twisting and curving with the rushing water moving swiftly in between, glinting like steel knives when the afternoon sun decided to make a brief appearance. Ancient trees dipped their gnarled fingers into the rushing torrent as their branches arched over her head dripping raindrops onto her hood. Walking was sublime exercise when the outlook was so beautiful and Lizzy made rapid progress becoming almost disappointed as the sight of a few scattered cottages and the medieval bridge with its five arches and triangular cutwaters came into view. Crossing the bridge she paused to watch the waterbirds for a moment. There were few people about and of those who walked none seemed to take much notice of her for which she was grateful. She knew if she had arrived in a carriage or dressed in her best pelisse it might have been a different matter. It was lovely to be anonymous for a change and the sense of freedom that she felt such as she had enjoyed in the old days almost overwhelmed her. Chiding herself for being silly and sentimental she continued over the bridge and turned into the lane leading to the High Street. It had been her intention to turn round and walk straight back to Pemberley, but now she was here she was struck by the idea of calling on Mrs Butler. That she could send news to her Aunt Gardiner about her friend seemed a wonderful idea.
The bridge I had in my head was the one at Bakewell which dates from the thirteenth century. Here's a link to some lovely photographs of Bakewell and its famous bridge. My own photos of Bakewell can be found by clicking on the sidebar.
Finally - what was Lydia Bennet up to in April? Here's an extract from Lydia Bennet's Story - I hope you enjoy it!
Harriet paused, her chestnut curls trembling with animation and her eyes sparkling with amusement. “Just as we thought a certain couple on the point of announcing their betrothal, Mary King has left to stay with her uncle in Liverpool! It is reported that she had so many bandboxes, it looked as if she was going for good!
“George Wickham is said to be suffering her absence greatly,” added Isabella, “as he has been seen going around the town with an air of despondency the like of which has never been seen in him before. I daresay you may have seen it for yourself if you chanced to pass him in the High Street this morning.”
“We have not had that misfortune thankfully, though I have a mind to say that I would not expect him to be mourning the loss of Miss King’s affection,” Lydia immediately answered, unbuttoning her pelisse. “It is far more likely that he is feeling the deprivation to his pocketbook. No wonder you say he looks as though he’s lost a shilling and found a groat!”
“So, Lizzy may get him after all,” said Kitty, voicing her thoughts out loud.
“They will be able to marry in Longbourn church before the summer is out; how delightful!” Harriet exclaimed, pouring tea into china bowls. “I do love a happy ending.”
Lydia could not think why the idea of her sister marrying Mr Wickham did not fill her mind with the same enrapt effusions, but she admitted to herself that it did not. Perhaps it was the idea that her sister might be the first to marry and, therefore, enjoy all the attention that would bring. Try as she might, Lydia felt most jealous of the notice and affection that was bestowed upon Elizabeth, particularly by her father. Except to tell her how silly she was, Lydia could not recall a single comment that her papa had ever made, let alone one in her favour. Despite the appearance Lydia gave of caring little for his remarks, she longed for him to say a kind word. By every unlucky turn of fate, her attempts to please him always ended in disaster, which had the effect of vexing him all the more. And on top of Mr Bennet’s adoration of Lydia’s eldest sisters, every young man in Hertfordshire seemed smitten with Jane and Lizzy. Not only were her sisters considered to be great beauties, but they also enjoyed countless opportunities to exhibit their loveliness to its greatest potential. If a new gown or a new bonnet were to be had, Jane and Elizabeth were treated first. It was very hard sometimes, Lydia thought, not to be envious when the best compliment she ever received was that she was tall and “handsome” and her best dress was a hand-me-down that even Mary, who had no interest in fashion, had turned down.
Well, apart from her own feelings, she felt she knew her sister Lizzy well enough, and Lydia was not convinced that the latter still held a torch for Mr Wickham. “I would not be surprised if Elizabeth has fallen in love with someone in Hunsford,” she said out loud.
“Has Mr Collins a brother?” asked Harriet, who had them all falling about with laughter at the very idea.
“Lord, no!” Lydia cried. “Thank goodness that there is only one such odious gentleman as Mr Collins in this world, though I daresay if he had a brother, he would have proposed to my sister Lizzy also. No, there is another gentleman, I believe, who is courting my sister. She has been in the company of Mr Darcy and his cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, very much of late, and I am inclined to think that the Colonel may be the man. After all, it could not very well be Mr Darcy!”
They all laughed again at the idea of Mr Darcy being Elizabeth’s suitor. The gentleman had lately been staying in Hertfordshire with his friend, Mr Bingley, and though the neighbourhood (and Lydia’s sister Jane in particular) had warmed to the latter, Mr Darcy had been found to be very proud and disagreeable, fancying himself above all the company.
“Well, now I have a tale to cheer us all up,” Penelope started. “I will tell you all about my friend Caroline and her brother Edward, twins and alike as two peas in a pod. They were invited to a fancy costume ball and, having no particular apparel, decided to dress as one another. Edward was squeezed into his sister’s gown!”
“And what did Caroline wear?” begged Lydia. “Did she don her brother’s breeches?”
“Yes she did! Can you think of anything more shocking?” cried Penelope. “And not only did she completely look the part of a man, but Edward fooled the entire party.”
“Did they really think he was his sister?” asked Kitty.
“Well, I’m told none doubted him for a moment,” Penelope replied. “He was applied to for ever so many dances!”
Penelope’s description of Edward’s dress and toilette diverted them so excessively, that when one of the officers, Mr Chamberlayne, called half an hour later, he was not only kidnapped for the rest of the day but forced into allowing them to dress him likewise. Kitty ran to her Aunt Phillips’ house just around the corner to procure a gown and a wig, whilst the rest of them prepared to get him ready.
Lydia and Harriet trapped young Chamberlayne in Harriet’s dressing room as soon as he could be persuaded to accompany them upstairs.
“We promise we won’t come in until you are ready to have your corset laced,” Lydia called through the door, to the amusement of the other girls who hovered outside, “but do not take too long. We would not wish to take you by surprise. In any case, there is no need to be so shy, Mr Chamberlayne. Harriet has seen it all before. Just say the word if you need any help; we’re awfully good at undoing buttons, you know!”
Harriet, Penelope, and Isabella did all they could to smother their giggles. Lydia was in her element. “I’ll lace his corset so long as you all help to pull,” she commanded as the door opened to admit them. Penelope and Isabella stood on the threshold with their mouths gaping wide open, unsure whether they should join in. “Don’t just stand there, Pen, give me a hand,” Lydia cried, as the young officer was set on before he knew what was happening. “Isabella, help me pull harder. Quick, before he changes his mind! It will all be over in a minute, Mr Chamberlayne; stand still, I beg you.”
By the time they had done with him, they were all feeling rather jealous of his pretty looks and even he admitted he was a beauty. He was laced and frocked in a muslin gown with a scarlet cloak and a bonnet topped with feathers and flowers. He had eyelashes that any young miss would be proud to possess and they all agreed (even he) that a little rouge and powder went a very long way to improve the complexion! Colonel Forster came in just ten minutes later, after being disturbed by all the noise, and was almost fooled until Lydia could not resist telling him the truth.
A while later some of the other officers arrived, all looking quite as splendid in their regimentals as ever. Lydia thought Mr Wickham looked particularly dashing this morning, his brown curls waving over his head to fall on his stiff, braided collar. His eyes met hers as he entered the room. So brazen was his expression that she caught her breath and felt obliged to turn immediately to Kitty as if she had remembered something of great importance.
“Have you heard any interesting or diverting snippets of gossip lately, Mr Wickham?” quipped Mr Denny as he walked through the door.
“Why, now you come to mention it, dear fellow,” Wickham replied, taking up his stance for all to see him, “I did hear two handsome young ladies in earnest conversation on my way here.”
“How splendid! Pray, Wickham, were these delightful creatures known to you?”
“Why yes, two of the fairest girls in Meryton struck up a most enchanting discourse.” Mr Wickham laughed at his own comic efforts and pitching his voice several octaves higher, with his lips pursed, he played his joke, impersonating Kitty and Lydia by turns.
“Kitty, that fellow over there is vexing me greatly,” he smirked and simpered, looking straight into Lydia’s eyes, with a pat of his curls, before he leapt around on the other side to take up Kitty’s corner. “How can that be, Lydia, when he is not even looking at you?” he trilled next, with one hand on his hip. He paused, as they all started to shout, before delivering his final assault. “That, my dear Kitty, is precisely what’s vexing me!”
The entire company could not, or would not, scold him they were laughing so much. Lydia thought him shameless and had soon told him so, as she did her best to disguise her embarrassment. She felt him watching her, but when she dared to look again, she was disappointed to see that she no longer held his attention. Suddenly, every eye was turned upon the young lady whom the officers had not seen before. Lydia was highly amused to see every soldier smooth his hair and adjust his cuffs, before vying for a position where they could admire her more closely.
Colonel Forster performed the introductions so seriously that it was near impossible for Lydia and the others to keep their countenances. “I am particularly pleased to be able to present our own dear Chamberlayne’s sister, Miss Lucy, who has come to enjoy Meryton’s society for a few days.”
“Lucy” bobbed a curtsey and fluttered her eyelashes, paying particular attention to Denny, and said, “I have heard so much about you all and much of you, Mr Denny, sir, but indeed no one prepared me for such handsome soldiers nor for such gallantry. I declare I love a redcoat more than I ever knew.”
“She is rather shy,” whispered the Colonel in Denny’s ear, “but I am sure you will put Chamberlayne’s little sister at her ease. Unfortunately, the man himself has had to pop out to see the saddler on business in the town, leaving her to our tender charge. I do not think he will be long, but she has been fretting for him ever since he left.”
Of course “Lucy” was not upset or in the least bit reserved and immediately took to flirting and teasing and making such a play for Mr Denny that his complexion took on the same hue as his scarlet coat. They were all excessively amused to observe how he became increasingly attentive as the morning wore on. How they did not immediately laugh out loud Lydia was unable to account.
“Do tell me all about yourself, Mr Denny,” begged “Lucy,” seating herself next to him in very close proximity on the sofa. “I have heard there is not another soldier so brave as you.”
“I am sure we are all as courageous as one another here, Miss Lucy,” Denny answered, twisting his hat nervously. “May I say what a pleasure it is to be introduced? It is always felicitous to meet with such handsome relations of one’s fellow officers, and indeed, the word handsome does you no credit. I had no idea Chamberlayne had such a beautiful sister. Where has he been hiding you?”
“It is too true, kind sir,” answered “Miss Lucy,” “I have, until recently, been much hidden away at home, but now I have come to Meryton I hope I shall be able to enjoy every society…and your company would be truly beneficial to me I believe, Mr Denny.”
“Do you care to dance?” Denny simpered. “It would be my pleasure to partner you at our party this evening if you would be so kind as to consider a humble soldier’s wishes.”
“Mr Denny!” “Lucy” cried, jumping up excitedly. “I could not wish for anything better; you may engage me for all of my dances,” she declared, forcing all observers to snigger behind hands and into handkerchiefs. They were in stitches Mr Chamberlayne was so convincing, such a talented mimic whose voice was pitched just like a young girl’s.
Mr Wickham, who had not been enjoying the fact that his efforts to attract “Miss Lucy” had been impeded, took over Denny’s part, and it was only when he remarked on the likeness between “Lucy” and her brother that Harriet and Lydia could bear it no longer. They laughed till they thought they should each suffer a seizure, which of course, made the men very suspicious.
“Lucy” broke down and declared that he could not endure such a falsetto modulation any longer but begged he might be allowed to keep the dress on for dancing later, to which there was a vast deal of laughter and jeers of derision. Mr Chamberlayne was made to part with his gown and wash his face before the evening party began. Lydia danced with all the officers, three times with Mr Denny and four with Mr Wickham. Considering the absence of his sweetheart, Mary, Mr Wickham appeared to be in reasonable good humour. Lydia wondered if he had heard that her sister Lizzy was leaving for London at the end of the week and would be back in Longbourn by the middle of next month. Perhaps it was this very fact that had raised his spirits.
Admitting to herself how much she had enjoyed having all of Mr Wickham’s attention to herself for a while, Lydia was forced to confess that the prospect of sharing his company once more with her elder sister was not entirely welcome. Elizabeth had been his favourite once before and could become so again, she was sure.
Although she did not look forward to this unwelcome likelihood, Lydia felt there could not be a happier or more contented creature. Life was good and with friends such as hers, she was certain of constant amusement!