NOTE: Greetings everyone. Today is the normally scheduled blog slot for our newest Austen Author Bella Breen, and indeed the following excerpt is from her latest release Four Months to Wed. Unfortunately, the need for this introductory paragraph is to warn our wonderful readers that Bella is under the weather so will probably not be able to respond to comments in a timely fashion. The good news is that the test for Covid-19 was negative and Bella has not required hospitalization. However, she does have severe pneumonia, and as anyone who has ever had pneumonia can attest, it alone is sufficient to sap all of one’s strength. Pneumonia is also one of those diseases that simply takes time, a LOT of time, to get over. Bella, thank God, is in the healing stage, but she did ask us for a day off, as it were. Rather than confiscating Bella’s day with something of our own, we chose to post an excerpt for Bella instead. As it turns out, the plot of Four Months to Wed revolves around a particularly lethal variant of smallpox, ironically mirroring the current pandemic we are all dealing with! Actually, such epidemics of the past were far, far worse than what is occurring with the Wuhan virus, as Bella noted in the novel’s opening forward.
The 30% mortality rate represents an average of all victims and all types, not a 3/10 die roll per person. It would disproportionately kill children by the bunches (especially infants) or those weakened through age or infirmity. …some epidemics were much more virulent than others. Case in point for a much more familiar virus: influenza. …in 1917-1920, it killed 50-100 million people, with 50% being 18-45. Smallpox would be the same way, with nastier epidemics having more cases of the most lethal types.
Perhaps for some of you, the topic is too real and raw to entice reading Four Months to Wed. Understandable. But note that the novel’s fictional smallpox epidemic is merely the launching point for Bella’s “forced marriage” plot line in this Pride and Prejudice variation. Additionally, maybe reading about a truly devastating viral epidemic will place current matters in perspective and even be encouraging! If this reasoning appeals, purchase Stephen King’s classic The Stand while on Amazon buying Bella’s novel. LOL!
Before reading the riveting opening paragraphs of Four Months to Wed, pause to say a prayer or send positive vibes into the universe (whatever works for you) for Bella to rapidly regain her health. Pray too for the private sector professionals, scientists, medical personnel, and authority figures who are attacking this epidemic head on.
This too shall pass. With love, your Austen Author admins, Sharon Lathan and Regina Jeffers
When the first person fell to the ground, Mr. Darcy had just finished a solitary ride across the countryside that ended in Lambton. He had planned to stop at the pub and have a drink, one of his ways of knowing what was going on in his county. But when the second person fell down, he turned his steed around and kicked him into a gallop towards Pemberley.
He thought hard on the ride back to his home. Both people had bright red rashes. There had been no sign or sound of Napoleon’s forces, and he would not believe the French to be the source of the illness this far inland. Besides, a malady would be hard to use in an attack. That left a fast sickness, one that showed no symptoms until the person was well and truly ill.
His heart sped up as he thought of his sister, Georgiana, who loved to be out in the flower gardens. He would force everyone inside Pemberley and not let them out. Deliveries would be made by doorsteps without anyone coming into contact with someone from the outside. He would have to let his sister’s masters leave; they had traveled from London to teach Georgiana in Spanish and oil painting for three months.
Mr. Darcy pulled back on the reins to slow his horse to a canter. Should he even go to Pemberley? Would he infect everyone there? He did not know what else came with the illness after the rash and fainting, but if death was a possibility, he would not put his sister at risk. Nor the faithful servants of Pemberley.
He entered the stable yard, pulling his horse back from approaching a stable hand as they usually did. “Get away! I may be ill with a disease that has afflicted several in Lambton just now!”
The stable hands stood and stared, unsure of what to do or what to make of what their master said. “After you take care of my horse, wash your hands and faces thoroughly. I do not want that illness here.”
Mr. Darcy spied a footman having a break in the yard. “Mr. Allen, inform Mrs. Reynolds that I will be staying in the old gamekeeper’s lodge until I either contract the illness and it passes or a sennight. Have food delivered by hamper left outside.”
He dismounted, then quickly backed away from everyone, pulled his scarf over his nose and mouth, and walked out of the stable yard in the direction of the old lodge. Shouting had him turn around to see Mrs. Reynolds trying to get his attention.
“Mr. Darcy? What has happened?”
He felt uncouth yelling from afar, but he did not know anything about this new illness. “Several people fell to the ground in Lambton in the space of a minute with a rash. I do not know what the illness is, but I am taking all precautions.”
Mrs. Reynolds blanched, and the stable hands took several steps backwards.
“I do not want anyone to come Pemberley with deliveries. They must place their deliveries outside. Everything from outside must be washed with soap and water. If anyone leaves, they cannot come back until the illness is gone from the county. Please tell Georgiana not to worry, that I am well but will isolate myself so that no one catches this.”
Mrs. Reynolds still looked stricken but nodded to Mr. Darcy.
He continued to walk to the old lodge, wondering what illness had just arrived in Derbyshire. He could not remember one such as this nor having heard of its like before. He was quite parched and hoped the well outside the lodge still had the bucket.
A footman delivered a basket and threw pebbles at the lodge to let him know it was there. Mr. Darcy was careful to cover his mouth and nose with a scarf when he picked up the basket and took care to wash his hands after handling it.
“I bet I am just as fastidious as a surgeon!” Mr. Darcy muttered to himself.
Georgiana had sent a letter with the basket of food. She was scared and upset that her brother had abandoned her, though she understood he did not want to infect all of them. She could not understand that he might not yet have symptoms but develop them later. It hurt his heart, but knew he was doing what was best for all of them.
* * *
Elizabeth had been in Meryton with her sisters looking at the shop windows and passing time. They had just smiled and nodded to a well-dressed and handsome newcomer, one who had to be a wealthy gentleman with how fine his clothes were, when the first person collapsed in the street.
It was an elderly woman, and a good deal of townspeople rushed to help her stand up and pick up her purchases until one person screamed and ran.
At that, everyone looked more closely at the old woman and then scattered. She had bumps on her head with a bright vermillion rash. During the rush to get away, another person fell, a child of not more than two and ten. He too had a bright red face with bumps. Then another child fell down.
It was absolute pandemonium, with screams and accusations of witches, the French attacking, and curses. Elizabeth had backed up to a shop window with her mouth agape. Lydia was screaming and pulling at her hair. Jane wanted to rush to help, but Elizabeth held her back.
“Lydia, calm down and behave yourself.” Elizabeth turned to Jane, who still stared at the stricken children and looked up at the well-dressed gentleman whose name she did not know.
“I apologize for speaking to you, but in these circumstances I am sure we can forgo the rules. I am Mr. Bingley. Do you need my help traveling to your home? I could probably fit one on my horse with me–”
The offer was too late. Lydia and Kitty broke away running and screaming for Longbourn. Elizabeth sighed, as it would now be impossible to stop them before they made the entire house ill.
She turned back to Mr. Bingley, looking up at him on his horse. “I am sorry, but we need to catch my sisters before they reach home. But thank you.”
The gentleman’s eyes were focused on Jane, but he tipped his beaver hat and kicked his horse into a fast walk.
Elizabeth walked quickly until she was out of Meryton, and then she too started running. She had more strength and endurance than anyone else in her family, as she would often run when there was no one else about. She caught up to her sisters, who were bent over panting not far from Meryton.
“Kitty and Lydia, you should not have run out of town like that. You are the daughters of a gentleman.”
Lydia, still bent over with her hands on her legs, looked up at her sister. “This is no time for your lectures, Lizzy. We did not want to fall over and die, did we, Kitty?”
Elizabeth narrowed her eyes. Her younger sister was ever obstinate and never learned any lesson they tried to teach her. “Be that as it may, word will get out of how you two behaved. And we cannot go directly home, as we need to wash first so that we do not bring whatever it–”
Lydia stood upright with her usual disdainful countenance directed at Elizabeth. “Not go home? There is something killing people in Meryton! We have to warn them!”
Lydia and Kitty briskly walked on the path back towards Longbourn. When they were close, Kitty and Lydia ran the rest of the way, taking Elizabeth by surprise. She shook her head. Whatever the illness was, the entire house would have it now.