Time has been marching on and I’ve been hard at work on my latest variation projects, among others. I’ve discovered in the time since I’ve been writing full time that though I imagine projects, work on the through the various stages of the process, ending in finally publishing them, that there is never truly an end. I’m not sure if that’s a deep observation, but it is very much the truth in my life. I enjoy what I do so much more than I used to and I certainly do not complain, but sometimes I will admit it feels a little monotonous performing the same tasks over and over, even though the storylines differ significantly.
That is why I live for times like this! My new work is scheduled for release next Thursday on the 21st, and will be titled The Companion. Here is a short excerpt which should give a pretty good indication of the story’s plot:
“You must wonder why I have asked you here, Miss Bennet. It is not surprising, I suppose, as one of your background cannot imagine that such a boon as this would come to you.”
“I apologize, Lady Catherine, but I am at a loss. To what do you refer?”
Lady Catherine only favored her with an airy wave. “All will become apparent in time.” The lady’s brows furrowed in thought. “I have observed you the times you have been in my company, Miss Bennet, and I have not failed to take your likeness. To wit, it is clear you are an intelligent, useful sort of person, one who understands her place in society, yet you show a distressing penchant for speaking your opinions in a forthright manner when you had best remain silent. Though I cannot in good conscience approve of your education and the lack of a governess, you have still managed to educate yourself in a manner which can only be termed extraordinary.”
“Thank you, Lady Catherine,” replied Elizabeth, though she was not at all certain that she should be thankful for such tepid praise.
“Of course,” continued the lady, her tone offhand, “once you are elevated, I will expect you to curb your outspokenness and your wild ways, your tendency to walk more than is proper, and your excessive wit.”
Mystified, though a little annoyed, Elizabeth held her temper in check and answered the lady evenly. “I am sorry I have provoked such a poor opinion, Lady Catherine, but I cannot imagine altering myself and giving up those things in which I take pleasure.”
“Of course, you must,” replied the lady. “I could never treat with someone in my own house who subscribes to such things. I require a proper, demure sort of person, and if I cannot find one, I shall be required to take that which I can find in hand and alter her.”
“I am afraid I do not know of what you speak. Might I ask you to be more explicit?”
“Why, I have decided that you shall be Anne’s companion. Thus, I require certain concessions from you in return for favoring you with this excellent opportunity.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You shall listen to what I say, Miss Bennet!” exclaimed the lady. “I will not tolerate such inattentiveness as this when I am speaking. Let this be your first lesson.”
“Lady Catherine,” said Elizabeth, struggling to hold her temper in check, “as you have not deigned to explain precisely what you would have of me, I am forced to attempt to decipher your purpose from your words. Am I to understand that you intend me to be Miss de Bourgh’s companion?”
“Of course! I am forced to reconsider my words concerning your intelligence, if you cannot understand so simple a matter.”
“I am at a loss to understand why you would want me, of all people, to serve in this capacity. Have I ever given you any reason to suppose I am seeking a position?”
“That is beside the point, Miss Bennet.”
“That is precisely the point! Had you asked me before you requested I attend you, I would have informed you that I have no intention of seeking a position. I cannot imagine what madness has led you to this application.”
“Miss Bennet,” said Lady Catherine, her manner full of exaggerated patience, “my daughter requires a companion, and I have been unable to procure one. You are tolerably intelligent and accomplished, your manners are passable, and you do not appear to be doing anything better with your time. It seems fortunate that you are present at this time when the need has come upon us.”
“With the exception that I am not seeking a position.”
Lady Catherine huffed and closed her eyes, visibly composing herself. When she opened them again, it was to pierce Elizabeth with her stare, her annoyance written upon her brow. “I have not been in the habit of being spoken to in such a way, Miss Bennet. Unfortunately, Anne has predicted your reaction with exactness, and though I have difficulty understanding your reticence—you, a woman with little dowry, little to recommend her, and almost no chance of eliciting a proposal from any man—I must congratulate my daughter for her foresight. If you are offended by my offer, in spite of these things, it need not be a permanent appointment. You may act as my daughter’s companion until I am able to find a suitable replacement.”
“And when might that be?” asked Elizabeth, wondering why she was even allowing the lady this much.
“I do not know,” was the lady’s surprising admission. “I have exhausted the possibilities in the extended neighborhood and even some who have responded to my posting in the London papers. I shall be forced to range further afield for a suitable woman.”
“I see,” replied Elizabeth. Though she made no further comment, her mind was working furiously, trying to determine how she could possibly refuse this ridiculous request without offending the lady. Under normal circumstances she would not even have concerned herself that much, but Lady Catherine had a great deal of influence in Charlotte’s life, and Elizabeth would not make her friend’s life more difficult.
“What say you, Miss Bennet?” asked Lady Catherine, impatience coloring her voice. “If you are concerned about my application, perhaps I should inform you that you will receive a very generous stipend.”
“Absolutely not,” replied Elizabeth firmly. “I am not a paid companion, and if I do choose to act as your daughter’s companion, I will do it as a gesture of friendship and nothing more.”
The lady’s countenance softened at Elizabeth’s declaration. “Then do we have an agreement?”
Though everything rebelled against what she was certain would be demeaning circumstances, Elizabeth voiced her agreement. “But only until you find a permanent companion or the time to return home is upon me. And I will be Miss de Bourgh’s friend, not her nursemaid. This means I will not give up those things that I love. I will continue as I ever have, in addition to providing companionship to your daughter and attending to her. I must have my own time, Lady Catherine, and if I walk or read a book during those times, it is my own concern.”
It seemed to Elizabeth like Lady Catherine was about to object to her conditions, for she opened her mouth to speak. Then she checked herself, grimaced, and withdrew to gather her wits about her.