Though very distracted these days with the new little man in my life, I am in the process of getting my newest book, Being Mrs. Bennet, ready for publication this summer. It’s the story of a modern Janeite who finds herself inhabiting the body of the Austen’s most notorious mom. She instinctively sets about trying to save Lydia from Wickham with unforeseen results. Please enjoy the following excerpt and look for more information on this very different novel in the coming months. It was an absolute blast to write (though it took me longer than anything else I’ve ever done – almost a decade!).
Caroline Bingley was not happy, and being the sort who must share her unhappiness with all around her, she had been dutifully pouring her woes into her sister’s long-suffering ears.
“Not the moment we set foot in the house our host and hostess abandon us to wait on the Bennets—” pronounced with appropriate derision “—of Longbourn! How is it they are here, Louisa? This is no mere coincidence. They have tracked Charles here, somehow or another, and Darcy, too, I should think.”
“Had they wished to hound us for an acquaintance, they might have done it far more conveniently in London, while Jane was in town.”
Caroline shrugged her shoulders in dismissal of her sister’s commonsense. “It does not truly matter where they pursued him: the fact of the matter is that they did pursue him! Jane will have him down on one knee to her within days.”
“I do not think Jane Bennet in the least conniving …”
“No,” Caroline interrupted, “but her mother is. One should be able to rely on Mrs. Bennet to give my brother a disgust of the family, but he has proved too happily blind in the past to be counted on for anything more discerning in the future.”
“Then there is nothing to be done but trust Charles’ judgment not to align himself unequally,” Louisa wearily suggested, wanting to bring the interview to an end.
“Have you gone mad? The entire point is that he cannot be trusted!”
“And what do you plan to do about it? You will not flee Pemberley as you did Netherfield.”
“Of course not. It would not do to leave the field open to her.”
“Who? Mrs. Bennet?”
Caroline snorted. “Do not be ridiculous. Eliza Bennet is the most dangerous member of the family.”
“You attribute your own feelings to her. I have never seen any indication in her behavior that she would stoop to such machinations as you are willing to employ. What a wonderful education our father squandered on you,” she remarked, shaking her head sadly.
Caroline rose to her most perfect, imposing posture: that which her teachers had often praised. “Only think what Eliza would do with such a privilege! Her natural propensity for deceit is frightening enough.”
Louisa failed to conceal a smirk.
Caroline glowered. “I do not know what there is in this situation to find amusing! The first lesson I learned at school, Louisa, is that we Bingleys cannot afford to marry without advantage. Besides, you want yourself allied to the Bennet family as little as I do.”
“True, and we did our best to discourage the union, but if it happens despite our efforts, we had better resign ourselves to the notion. But this has little to do with Charles and Jane. You are simply frightened of Eliza’s power over Darcy.”
“I certainly am not,” she instinctively denied.
“Then you are a fool. No one has ever seen him display such an interest in a lady, and you have been striving to ensnare him for years. You had best reassess your sights, my dear, for nothing will ever come of it.”
She turned to stare out the window. “I am a guest in his house. If I cannot make the most of such an opportunity, then perhaps I am unworthy to be its mistress.”
“Just be sure you do not make the worst of it instead. If we are to lose this battle, Caroline, let us at least us do so with grace.”
“If only it were anyone else!” Caroline lamented.
Thankfully hearing the sounds of resignation in her sister’s words, Louisa sought to distract her. “Come. You shall feel better after breakfasting. The gentlemen are long gone, but Miss Darcy and Mrs. Annesley might still be lingering at the table. Good company will cheer you up.”
Caroline scoffed. “We had best get it in before the worst possible company arrives. How shall I bear to be civil to the Bennets? It is impossible.”
“You will put all that schooling of which you boast to good use. Just recall that Jane might be the next mistress of Netherfield. That should provide the needed assistance.”
Caroline scowled, an expression she would really do better to avoid, and preceded her sister out the door.
Louisa overlooked the familiar slight and followed. “It seems we have already missed Miss Darcy. I hear her in the music room,” she casually commented.
Caroline paused on the stairs and listened. “I hear two players. So much for good company! At least we may continue our discussion over breakfast.” She pointedly ignored her sister’s heavy sigh and continued to the breakfast room, where she found Mrs. Annesley finishing her repast. Surprised by the sight, she mumbled an instinctive good morning before retreating back into the hall.
“Caroline?” Louisa questioned such strange behavior, excusing herself to Miss Darcy’s bewildered companion before following her sister across the hall to the saloon that housed Georgiana’s fine instrument. The music stopped, but a burst of giggles hastened Miss Bingley’s steps. It took her a moment to process precisely who it was sitting beside her hostess on the bench, only slowly recognizing her as one of the younger Bennet girls. The mousy one, she thought dismissively, quickly taking in the lady’s fashionable attire and welcoming carriage, though not so much so as before.
“Good morning, Mrs. Hurst, Miss Bingley,” said Georgiana, rising. “I believe you are previously acquainted with my friend, Mary Bennet?” They all supplied the necessary acknowledgements. “Miss Bennet was so good as to call on me early this morning, that we might have some time alone,” she shyly hinted.
“I love my sisters, but at times it is hard to have a proper conversation when we are all in one room,” Mary said easily. “Sometimes it seems we make enough noise to drown out the Parlement of Fouls.”
“Perhaps Chaucer had sisters too?” Georgiana quipped, and both girls laughed, until they noticed that the other ladies had not a notion of what they spoke. Composing themselves, the two shared a secret smile.
Miss Bingley just stared.
“As the entertainment for the morning is music, may we presume you were practicing a piece for the company’s enjoyment?” Mrs. Hurst inquired, seeing her sister at an unusual loss for words.
“Indeed!” Georgiana gratefully agreed. “Though it would be best if we could spend some more time preparing.”
“Of course. We were on our way into breakfast when we learned you had company. We merely wished to greet Miss Bennet and shall now leave you to enjoy your music.” Taking Caroline’s arm, Louisa ushered her out the door.
“Are they not bosom companions?” Caroline muttered as they crossed the hall.
“Miss Mary has improved,” Louisa noted.
“Quite miraculously, I am sure, yet inserting herself into the household at so early an hour is just like a Bennet. At least she is presentable, so we may assume she did not walk from Lambton.”
Louisa sighed once more. The day showed every promise of being exceedingly tiresome. Unthinkingly, she followed Caroline when that lady made an unexpected detour towards the stairwell.
“I think I shall change my gown. The orange sarcenet is more becoming. Come with me, Louisa, that I may have the benefit of your opinion.”
“But what of breakfast?” Louisa said with a longing glance down the hall.
“Who can think of food at such a time? Do come along, Louisa. I have need of you.”
“A please might be appreciated,” Mrs. Hurst grumbled under her breath while ascending the stairs.
“What is that?”
“Just clearing my throat. I was looking forward to a cup of tea.”
“We shall ring for it. Mr. Darcy has so many servants it can be no burden.”
Caroline was mistaken. Though Pemberley was certainly amply staffed and well run by Mrs. Reynolds, nothing in that estimable housekeeper’s previous experience had quite prepared her for the exigencies of this particular morning. It began when she entered the kitchen to find the master in deep conference with Cook. He was inspecting tarts made the night before and advising on the delicacies yet to be prepared for the expected guests. There was to be an ample tea served in the saloon and several baskets required by the fishing party. None of this was extraordinary, but Mr. Darcy’s presence in the kitchen discussing such matters was, particularly his emphasis on one young lady’s tastes.
“Miss Elizabeth likes cucumber sandwiches. And blackberry tarts. ‘Tis a shame you made blueberry.”
“Miss Bingley expressed her preference for them, sir. I can send one of the girls to gather some blackberries and have them made up in time for tea.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Pearson. You are a gem,” and he strode off as if his retainers were not staring at him in shock.
“What do you make of that, Mrs. Reynolds?”
“Miss Elizabeth Bennet … I think I had best inspect the music room, Mrs. Pearson. It might need additional attention.”
From that moment on the staff of Pemberley was thrown into a flurry of dusting, waxing, polishing, and flower arranging. The early arrival of Mary Bennet caused no little consternation as additional refreshments were called for right in the midst of Cook’s second round of tart preparation. Most of her kitchen hands had been requisitioned by Mrs. Reynolds to help make the already pristine Pemberley additionally spotless. When Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst called for late breakfast trays in the former’s quarters, rather than availing themselves of the large and neglected repast in the breakfast room, cook was in no temper to cater to them.
“Thank goodness she’s out,” Mrs. Pearson muttered before sending up cold tea and the blueberry tarts.
What would you do if you suddenly discovered you were Mrs. Bennet? I’d love to hear your thoughts!