After any number of starts and stops and several new releases of other books along the way, I am happy to say that my 2017 National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) story is targeted for release this month. The working title is Together in Perfect Felicity. Here’s an excerpt from the book to whet your appetite. Enjoy!
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the topic of discussion among four unmarried young ladies, who are gathered together in the same room and in want of diversion, must invariably center on the prospects for marital felicity for each of them in their turn. Such was indeed the case in Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s bedroom at Longbourn manor that day.
“I contend that happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance,” declared Charlotte Lucas, who was visiting from the neighboring village.
“Spoken by the least likely of the four of us to reach the altar.”
Elizabeth, the second eldest of five Bennet daughters, stared at her cousin in utter dismay on behalf of her intimate friend, Charlotte. Elizabeth’s junior by two years, Phoebe Phillips paid her no notice. Not that Elizabeth expected any real sort of regret on the young lady’s part. If ever one might be described as her mother’s daughter, admittedly, it was Phoebe. Though closest in age to Elizabeth’s younger sister Mary and closest in terms of sensibility to Elizabeth’s two youngest sisters, Kitty and Lydia, Phoebe much preferred the company of the two eldest Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth.
What with Phoebe being the only daughter of Mrs. Agatha Phillips, and Mrs. Phillips being the only sister of Mrs. Fanny Bennet, it was generally expected that the cousins would be the dearest of friends, even if the girls’ temperaments were as varying as day and night. To her credit, Phoebe was not quite so vulgar as her mother was thought to be. Elizabeth rather supposed it was merely a matter of time.
Whereas the embarrassment of it all caused the eldest Bennet daughter’s angelic face to redden, the younger daughter’s astonishment was not so easily repressed.
“Phoebe!” Elizabeth exclaimed with energy.
“What did I say that is not true?”
“It is not what you said so much as it is the manner in which you said it. You owe Charlotte an apology,” Elizabeth declared.
A very plain-looking, intelligent woman and the oldest in the group by at least four years, Charlotte said, “Dearest Eliza, you need not to censure your cousin on my behalf.”
Phoebe smirked. “There, you see, Lizzy,” the young lady cried, “Charlotte knows the truth when she hears it. She is not at all offended.”
“Heaven forbid,” replied Charlotte. “Were I to be affronted by any of the things you say, Phoebe, I might be as miserable as you are.”
Pleased by her friend’s retort, even at her own relation’s expense, Elizabeth covered her mouth to mask her smile. She loved nothing more than laughing at the ridiculousness of others: a trait she inherited from her dear father, Mr. Thomas Bennet.
Jane’s disposition demanded a more amicable resolution to the ebbing tension among their little group. “I believe no one is ever really too old to find happiness in marriage,” said she.
“Says the second least likely person among us to find a husband.”
“Phoebe!” Elizabeth exclaimed once more.
“Although, I will allow that Jane is the only one of us who has ever come close to securing a marriage proposal. How many times have we heard my aunt Bennet boast of the young man at my uncle Gardiner’s home in town who was so much in love with her and the general belief that he would have made her an offer even though he did not?”
“Lest you forget, Phoebe, Jane was only fifteen at the time. I recall Mrs. Bennet saying that likely was the reason,” Charlotte said.
“Oh, but he wrote such pretty verses on her,” Phoebe waxed poetically. “Pray, whatever became of your young beau, Cousin Jane?”
Elizabeth said, “Who really gives a care? Poetry or no poetry, the man is no doubt a fool.”
Charlotte scoffed. “I wager all men are fools. How else might one explain the abundance of single young ladies in want of husbands among our general acquaintances?”
“Owe it to our rather exacting standards,” Elizabeth promptly asserted. “That and the limited variety of single young men in this part of the country.”
“Exacting? Pray what exactly is your opinion on the ideal husband, Lizzy?” Phoebe asked.
“I should like to think the ideal husband is respectable and kind and one who honors his wife and protects his family.”
Her spirits rising to playfulness, Elizabeth said, “I see no reason why the ideal husband should not be handsome. I posit one might just as easily fall in love with a handsome man as one who is rather less pleasing to the eye. Handsome men deserve love too.”
“Oh, Lizzy!” Jane said in response to her sister’s jest.
“It is not as though you need ever concern yourself in that regard, Jane. You are far too beautiful to catch the eye of any man whose beauty does not equal yours.”
“How a gentleman looks on the outside can mean nothing at all if he does not possess goodness within,” Jane said.
“I could not agree more,” Charlotte began, “and as we all know how much Eliza enjoys professing opinions that are not always her own, she surely does not measure a man by his physical attributes either.”
“Indeed,” Elizabeth said, reaching out to take her friend by the hand and giving it a gentle squeeze in solidarity. “You know me very well.” Releasing her friend’s hand, she continued, “But that is enough about me. What characteristics do you look for in a potential husband, dearest Charlotte?”
Charlotte shrugged. “I always like to think of myself as being a very sensible woman. At seven and twenty, I have long given up the idea of meeting my very own Prince Charming. So long as I can marry a decent man and be the mistress of my own home, however large or small, I should have no cause to repine.”
“La!” exclaimed Phoebe. “Decent. Respectable. Handsome. If neither of you is willing to say what is the most important characteristic of the ideal husband, then I surely will.”
“What else is there?” Jane asked.
“Why the gentleman must be rich, of course!”
“Surely you have heard it said that money does not buy happiness, Phoebe,” Elizabeth said.
“I have heard it said time and time again, and I simply do not believe it. And on the oft chance it is true, what does it signify especially since one might just as easily fall in love with a rich man as a poor one.”
“Says the youngest of the four of us,” Elizabeth responded.
“If by that you mean to say I am merely young and foolish, perhaps I am, but I shall not be deterred from my opinion. Besides, as Charlotte said, happiness in marriage is purely a matter of chance. I prefer to take my chances with a rich man.”
“I wish you nothing but the best of luck,” Elizabeth said.
“Laugh at me if you dare, Cousin Lizzy, but I seriously doubt there is one among us who would refuse the hand of a wealthy gentleman, regardless of his character.”
Elizabeth did not mean to be cruel, but she could not help but laugh a little. She threw a quick glance to her right and then another to her left. “In spite of your strong resolve, your assertion is one that will no doubt go unproven. It is not as though there is an abundance of wealthy young men in want of wives in our midst.”
Phoebe clutched a soft pillow to her bosom. “Surely you are aware that particular dilemma is soon to be resolved.”
“Are you speaking of the imminent arrival of Mr. Charles Bingley—the young man who recently let Netherfield Park?” Jane inquired.
“Indeed, I am. To be more precise, the young man of large fortune from the north of England. He is said to have five thousand pounds a year, and he is also said to be handsome, which must surely count for something with you, Lizzy. But wait until you hear the best part of it all. Mr. Bingley will be accompanied by a rather large party when he returns. He is single after all and where there is one single man there is bound to be another and another and another.”
“What can the size of Mr. Bingley’s party have to do with any of us?” cried Jane.
“The greater the number of single men in his party, the better are our chances of meeting our potential husbands among them,” Phoebe cried. She tilted her head in a moment of contemplation, and then continued. “Oh! I have a brilliant idea. What say you, ladies, that we make a pact that the four of us will do everything in our power to find husbands during the course of the next twelve months?”
“Even if what you propose were viable, marriage is a serious commitment. I do not know that I would be comfortable approaching such a consequential endeavor in such a frivolous—dare I say tactless manner as you are suggesting.”
“For heaven’s sake, Lizzy, it is not as though I have suggested a wager or anything of the sort. I am merely suggesting that we seize control of our own destinies. If not now, then when? None of us is getting any younger and who is to say? One of us might very well succeed.
“Think about it, Charlotte … Jane … Lizzy. What is there for either of us to lose?”
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