As anyone who has ever done it knows, writing the book is only the beginning. One of the writing groups that I belong to sold t-shirts within the last year or two that summed it up perfectly.
So it was with Mrs. Collins’ Lover which will be released in August 2019. When I first began the story, the opening was from Mr. Bennet’s point of view, but when the story really got rolling, it was mainly told by Elizabeth and Darcy. The opening no longer felt right but still needed to be said. Strategic changes switched it to Elizabeth’s story, but I still love Mr. Bennet’s struggle to sacrifice his favorite child for the sake of the others. Because of this, I thought I would share the original. (Please remember it has not had a final edit as it was cut from the book.)
Mr. Bennet placed the letter on his desk and stared out his study window. A month ago, he would have laughed and set the ridiculous missive aside, perhaps responding in a fortnight or so, but his eyes were now open to his own mortality and he could not be oblivious as he had once been.
A flash of rose coloured fabric caught his eye. Elizabeth, his second and favourite daughter, walked a garden path within his sight. He stood and approached the window as he watched her quick steps. Her hem was thick with mud, again, ensuring Mrs. Bennet’s disapprobation. The wind tugged at her bonnet and Lizzy lifted her head to the sun, closing her eyes and relishing the weak autumn warmth. As she lowered her head and opened her eyes, she glimpsed him observing her through the window and waved. Mr. Bennet smiled and nodded as she turned toward the house. A moment later, he heard the front door close and her footsteps in the hallway. The door opened, and she bounced into the room.
“Papa!” She placed a kiss upon his cheek. “It is a glorious day.” She crossed to the bell pull and tugged it before claiming her seat across from his desk. “I visited the Rodgers this morning. Little Betsy is growing so quickly. I believe Jane and I will make her a few new dresses as I fear she will outgrow those she has before winter. Mrs. Rodgers mentioned the old maple again.”
Mr. Bennet took his seat and watched her closely. “I will have Mr. Carter take a look. Did any of the other tenants have any requests?”
Elizabeth ran down a short list of concerns as Mr. Bennet noted them in his journal. While they spoke, Mrs. Hill entered and poured out a cup of tea for each of them. A plate of warm sweet rolls was set between them before the housekeeper gave a brief curtsey and left the room.
“Mr. Renshaw sent his regards on your speedy recovery.” Elizabeth’s lips twitched in merriment as she took up one of the rolls and pulled it apart. “I believe he was fishing for an invitation, but I simply thanked him and continued on my way. Were Jane with me, I am certain she would have invited him to tea and then we would never have gotten rid of him. I know he amuses you at times, but I was uncertain you were sufficiently healed to undergo an afternoon of such tediousness.”
“Thank you for considering my health, Lizzy,” Mr. Bennet replied cynically, knowing how Renshaw wore on her nerves with his tendency to repeat himself.
“Of course, Papa.” She gave him a full smile. “I am ever mindful of your well-being.”
A chuckle rumbled in Mr. Bennet’s chest until his eyes fell once more to the correspondence he had received. “As am I,” he muttered.
“What was that?” Elizabeth asked just before popping the last of her roll into her mouth. She reached for another.
“You worked up an appetite this morning,” he commented instead of answering her.
Elizabeth shrugged. “I suppose I walked farther than I normally would. I was thinking over something Charlotte said last night.”
“Miss Lucas is wise for her years. What éclat has she shared with you?” Mr. Bennet sat back in his seat, cradling his tea cup in his hands as he enjoyed the warmth it provided.
“We were discussing how much affection a lady should reveal when being courted.”
Her father leaned forward once more and set his cup back upon the saucer, lest he spill any upon himself. “May I assume this was in regards to your eldest sister?”
Elizabeth nodded and took a sip of tea. “I believe none are truly aware of her feelings for Mr. Bingley, and mentioned this to Charlotte. She saw the prudence of it, but suggested Jane should show more than she feels to Mr. Bingley or he might be in doubt.” She frowned. “Papa, do you believe Mr. Bingley may doubt Jane’s affections for him?”
Mr. Bennet’s expression mirrored his daughter’s. “I believe Mr. Bingley is a sought after young man who has shown a pointed interest in your sister. However, they have not met often enough to know if they suit.”
“But they do!” Elizabeth declared enthusiastically. “I know it is early and there is no need to rush things, but they are so perfectly suited for each other.” She sat back in her seat and met his gaze once more. “Charlotte said that happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. She has decided it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.”
Mr. Bennet’s thoughts turned toward his own marriage and questioned Miss Lucas’ logic, but understood her reasoning. He studied his daughter, knowing she was a romantic at heart who dreamed of an undying love; before allowing his gaze to fall once more upon the letter on his desk.
“I believe Miss Lucas may have a wisdom greater than I first knew.”
“Oh Papa!” Elizabeth laughed. “You know it is not sound. I am certain Charlotte would never act in such a way herself.”
“Would she not?” he asked. “Given an opportunity to provide for her own comfort without cost to her family, would Miss Lucas refuse in hopes of a better situation? She is eight and twenty, Lizzy. She has learned practicality.”
Elizabeth’s frown returned more defined. “I suppose, but dear Jane will not have to worry. I am certain she and Mr. Bingley will get on splendidly.”
“That may be so, but Mr. Bingley has yet to visit me regarding her.” Mr. Bennet traced the edge of the letter with his index finger. “Lizzy, I have something I wish to discuss with you …”
The book room door opened with a loud bang, startling them both from their conversation. No one entered, though voices filled the hallway. They soon realized the door had not been latched correctly and, when the front door opened to admit the youngest Bennet daughters newly returned from Meryton, it had blown open. Elizabeth latched it firmly and returned to her seat.
“What were you saying, Papa?”
Mr. Bennet stared at the door, wondering if it was a sign not to take this step just yet. His eyes fell once more upon the missive, but he placed his hand over it as he smiled at his daughter. “Nothing important.” He took up a sweet roll. “So the old maple has seen better days?”
Their conversation returned to the estate and Mr. Bennet pushed thoughts of what he must require of his precious girl from his mind for a short time longer.
On Monday, the eighteenth of November, the sun rose at it always did, but Mr. Bennet barely noticed its radiance. The day he had been dreading had finally arrived. He lifted his head and stared down the length of the breakfast table at his assembled family.
Mrs. Bennet was holding court at the far end, listening to her two youngest daughters chatter about their plans for the day. Mary, their middle daughter, was silent as she divided her attention between Fordyce’s Sermons and her plate. Jane and Elizabeth also sat quietly on either side of their father.
As his gaze fell upon Mary once more, Mr. Bennet wished she were more like her older sisters, having some interest in their tenants and the land. Of all his daughters, she appeared to have the habits of a rector’s wife; though her compassion was sorely lacking. He shook his head as he looked once more to his eldest daughters.
Jane, having only recently recovered from a severe cold, still looked peaked but beautiful. He sent up a silent prayer that Mr. Bingley would announce his intentions toward her soon. Though he doubted the man would do so in time to save his most precious daughter.
He turned to watch Elizabeth, who in turn was watching her eldest sister. Ever the caregiver, knowledgeable of the estate and everyone on it. She would be the best Mistress Longbourn had ever seen. He cleared his throat after wiping a tear from his eye.
“I hope, my dear,” he said to his wife, “that you have ordered a good dinner to-day, because I have reason to expect an addition to our family party.”
He felt Elizabeth’s eyes upon him, measuring him carefully. Mr. Bennet had attempted to insert his normal levity into his speech, but he could tell by her questioning gaze that he had failed miserably.
His wife had begun speculating as to whom he might be alluding, so he decided to provide another clue though he was yet unwilling to speak the name aloud. “The person of whom I speak is a gentleman, and a stranger.”
For some reason, Mrs. Bennet took this to mean their new neighbour, Mr. Bingley, though he was so well known to them as to have housed both Jane and Elizabeth during his eldest daughter’s illness the previous week. Mr. Bennet shook his head, befuddled by her logic.
“It is NOT Mr. Bingley. It is a person whom I never saw in the whole course of my life.”
Elizabeth’s brows rose, clearly wondering how a complete stranger to her father could have earned an invitation to dine with them. Though he would normally have entertained himself with his family’s questions and guesses, he did not have the patience to do so this day.
“About a month ago I received this letter,” he held up the missive, both grateful and disgusted by its presence. “It is from my cousin, Mr. Collins, who, when I am dead, may turn you all out of this house as soon as he pleases.”
The old Mr. Bennet would have said this in jest to listen to his wife’s laments, but to-day he declared it so that each of his daughters would grasp the desperateness of this situation. His gaze fell to Elizabeth once more, eyes pleading for her forgiveness.
Mrs. Bennet cried out against the man and the entail which stole Longbourn from her and her daughters. The eldest attempted to explain the nature of an entail to her as they had so many times before, but to no avail.
“It certainly is a most iniquitous affair,” said Mr. Bennet, “and nothing can clear Mr. Collins from the guilt of inheriting Longbourn. But if you will listen to his letter, you may perhaps be a little softened by his manner of expressing himself.”
He proceeded to read the letter; a pompous, falsely humble, proclamation of his intent to heal a breach within the family by offering an ‘olive branch’ and alluding to possible reparation to the Bennet daughters. The majority of the wordy missive was filled with praise of Mr. Collins’ patroness who had bestowed a valuable rectory upon the man after he received ordination earlier in the year.
“At four o’clock, therefore, we may expect this peace-making gentleman,” said Mr. Bennet, as he folded up the letter. “He seems to be a most conscientious and polite young man, upon my word, and I doubt not will prove a valuable acquaintance, especially if Lady Catherine de Bourgh should be so indulgent as to let him come to us again.”
He returned the letter to his pocket where it crinkled against the second missive he had received from the same gentleman, though he would not reveal the information from that at this time.
Mrs. Bennet appeared thoughtful for the first time and cautiously voiced her acceptance of any amends the gentleman might offer. Her daughters each responded in manners similar to their individual personalities. Jane gave the man credit for thinking of offering atonement, though she could not think of what that might entail. Elizabeth, being the daughter of his heart, immediately summed him up as Mr. Bennet himself would have done.
“He must be an oddity, I think,” said she. “I cannot make him out. There is something very pompous in his style. And what can he mean by apologising for being next in the entail? We cannot suppose he would help it if he could. Could he be a sensible man, sir?”
Mr. Bennet drew a deep breath and released it slowly as his eyes fell from her. “No, my dear, I think not.” His voice held all the heartache he felt for her. In any other circumstances, he would be looking forward to observing this mix of servility and self-importance with amusement, but he could not bring himself to relish in what would be his daughter’s misery.
“In point of composition,” said Mary, “the letter does not seem defective. The idea of the olive-branch perhaps is not wholly new, yet I think it is well expressed.”
The youngest, Catherine and Lydia, clearly held no interest in either the letter or its writer as it was next to impossible that he should come in a scarlet coat as the officers in the militia now housed in Meryton. They returned to the latest gossip recently obtained from the officers’ wives and their Aunt Phillips who resided in the town.
Mr. Bennet excused himself as his family returned to their previous discussions and Mrs. Bennet called for the housekeeper to make preparations for their guest. He slipped into his book room and dropped into his seat. Reluctantly, he pulled the second letter from his pocket and reviewed the equally ingratiating text.
I thank you for the suggestion of speaking to Cousin Elizabeth regarding the property, and hope to find ample time to spend in her company.
“I hope you will someday forgive me, Lizzy.” He turned his eyes out the window. “Please, God, may she understand that I only have her best interest in mind.”
And, without any further ado, here is the blurb and the cover of the book:
Elizabeth Bennet was raised with a strong belief and faith in God’s plan for her life. She knew He had a plan, even if the details were hidden from her. But, when placed in an untenable situation, she turned instead to the arms of a man to find brief moments of joy. Finally, when able to realize the happiness which was always intended for her, the weight of her guilt over her past sins convinces her of her unworthiness. Only through reconciliation with the Lover of her soul can she truly fulfill the life He planned for her. But first, she must forgive herself in order to find redemption.
Remember: In order to be redeemed, there must be sin. This story is intended for mature audiences. Trigger Warning: There are incidents of abuse in this story.
This is a Pride and Prejudice retelling beginning about the time Elizabeth and Jane return to Longbourn after their stay at Netherfield Park.
As I shared last month, this is taken from the text and the reader is seeing it from Darcy’s point of view. I want to thank my wonderful friends again: Heather for being so patient with me as I made her try font after font after font, Trina for huddling with me in the wind and helping me refold the shawl when the wind whipped it out of shape, and Cara for her endurance as she stood with arms outstretched for extended periods of time. This has been a work of love.
I am currently posting the story on AustenUnderground.com, but the presale will begin in July and the story will come down off the message boards the week before release.
What do you think so far?