Warning: This post contains several excerpts which will make it a bit of a long read. However, if you persevere and make it to the end, there is an opportunity to be entered in a draw for an ebook copy of the Willow Hall series.
“My excellent father died about five years ago; and his attachment to Mr. Wickham was to the last so steady, that in his will he particularly recommended it to me, to promote his advancement in the best manner that his profession might allow—and if he took orders, desired that a valuable family living might be his as soon as it became vacant…
…I knew that Mr. Wickham ought not to be a clergyman; the business was therefore soon settled—he resigned all claim to assistance in the church, were it possible that he could ever be in a situation to receive it, and accepted in return three thousand pounds…
…For about three years I heard little of him; but on the decease of the incumbent of the living which had been designed for him, he applied to me again by letter for the presentation. His circumstances, he assured me, and I had no difficulty in believing it, were exceedingly bad. He had found the law a most unprofitable study, and was now absolutely resolved on being ordained, if I would present him to the living in question—of which he trusted there could be little doubt, as he was well assured that I had no other person to provide for, and I could not have forgotten my revered father’s intentions. You will hardly blame me for refusing to comply with this entreaty, or for resisting every repetition to it. His resentment was…”
Jane Austen. Pride & Prejudice
This is where Willow Hall begins. Right here, where Wickham comes back to Darcy in want of a living — the one he once refused.
However, the living had already been given to another, a friend of Darcy’s named Philip Dobney.
As you will notice from the excerpt below, I have made a change here from what Darcy’s letter said. The incumbent of the living, Mr. Harker, is not deceased but very much alive. He is, however, getting advanced in years and has lost most of his sight. Therefore, he has stepped aside, allowing for Philip to be given the living.
Darcy also put his cup aside. “I have met many like him.” He turned the handle of the cup away from himself and back again. There was no need for the motion other than to give his hand something to do and his eyes something on which to focus other than those looking at him now. There was a topic he knew he must broach and of which both Mr. Harker and Mr. Dobney needed to be aware. However, the subject was not one that was easily canvassed. “I was visited by such a one just yesterday.”
“Wickham?” asked Philip softly. In the whole of their acquaintance, there were few who caused Darcy to fidget with uneasiness as he was now. George Wickham was very adept at making Darcy uneasy. He was known for his purposeful gibes at Darcy, as well as his playing at causing trouble for him. How Darcy had managed to tolerate the young fool for as long as he had ? even if it was merely for the sake of his father ? had always astounded Philip.
“Did he ask about the living?” There was no doubt in Philip’s mind as to what that meeting had been about. Philip knew the details of Darcy’s father’s will and the arrangement that had been made with Wickham when he had declined the living in favour of a monetary settlement, for Darcy had discussed them with Philip before allowing him to accept the living as his own. There was an understandable uneasiness even then in Darcy’s manners. They both knew that Wickham would one day challenge the arrangement and plead how the elder Mr. Darcy’s will had not been kept.
“He did, and I refused to hear of it, of course.” Darcy looked out the window. “He claims his circumstances are dire, and I have no doubt they are.”
“He is like my uncle,” said Lucy, rising to gather the cups. Her hands often felt the need to be busy when her mind was disquieted. “He will apply to you again and again. And then, when he is unsuccessful, he will look for another method of gaining what he wants.” Her voice grew more panicked with each successive word, and her hands trembled, causing the cups to clatter.
Phillip, who was near her, reached out, steadied them, and then took them from her. She was not one to be easily rattled. She had listed that trait as one of her qualifications for marrying him, and so her state of agitation spoke to him of some awful truth that lay hidden.
Aunt Tess, who had lived with and helped care for Lucy for years, stood and wrapped an arm around her niece’s shoulders. “He may be like your uncle, but he is not your uncle. We will be well. You shall marry Mr. Dobney, and we shall be well.” She guided Lucy back to the settee they had been sharing. Taking her seat, she took Lucy’s hand in both of hers. “It is time we spoke of it,” she said gently to Lucy, who swallowed and nodded her consent.
And here is where the set up for the whole Willow Hall series begins — with Lucy’s need to be protected.
Some men are pure evil. Derbyshire has known at least three such men, and Lucy’s uncle, though not the worst of the three, is one of them. The tale Lucy and her aunt tell is of abuse and manipulation. This story and how Wickham is involved with what follows is important to the understanding of the series.
When book one concludes, Darcy is set to return to London, but he goes bearing the following news which Philip shares with him:
“You must speak to my father. Some school chum of his has an estate in Hertfordshire. He is looking to let it come fall. As I understand it, he wishes to take up a place in town and spend time visiting his daughter and her husband and does not wish to see Netherfield sit vacant.”
And so between books one and two, Pride and Prejudice happens — or most of it happens. Book two, The Tenant’s Guest, will pick up the plot from canon and alter it here:
“Have you had good news?” Cecily Abbot, a lady of about seven and twenty, delighted in having her home filled with people, especially when those people were young ladies she counted as dear friends and relations. She had been anxiously awaiting Elizabeth’s reading of the missive. She had speculated about its contents several times since they had left Willow Hall. She was most pleased to have been late in departing, due to an issue with one of her children, for if they had left exactly as they had planned, Elizabeth would not have received the letter until she returned. And such a letter could not be held until later, for it must contain good news.
Elizabeth held out the letter to Cecily. “Yes, it is very good news. Jane shall be travelling with my aunt and uncle.” Elizabeth could not help how large her smile grew at declaring such news. It had been lovely of her aunt and uncle to allow her to travel ahead of them when their plans had been altered due to the business at Mr. Gardiner’s warehouse increasing and needing his attentions, but she truly did miss Jane.
Mrs. Abbot clapped her hands and accepted the letter, unfolding it to see the good news with her own eyes. “So a week this Thursday?” There was no mistaking the excitement in her voice. “We shall both have our dearest older sisters to keep us company.”
That’s right. Mr. and Mrs. Abbot, who are the tenants at Willow Hall, are Elizabeth’s relations for Mrs. Abbot and Mrs. Gardiner are sisters. And Darcy is just returning to Derbyshire ahead of his friends and one of the first things he does is check on his tenants at Willow Hall where he finds a delightful surprise named Elizabeth.
There will be many other changes along the way as several couples find their happily ever afters before the close of the series.
One of those changes will be this young lady, the heroine of book three, who shows up unexpectedly at Willow Hall and in the company of a particular lieutenant:
“Lydia, do be serious,” Elizabeth chided before anyone else could say a word.
“I can replace it.” Ignoring her sister, Lydia continued with her explanation. Of course, Elizabeth would not understand. Elizabeth never did anything foolish enough to be punished by their father. In fact, he had never once called Elizabeth dull or silly. No, to their father, Elizabeth was quick and clever. “I will go without most of my pin money, and I am not without skills. I could take in some sewing.”
Lydia saw the look of disbelief on Elizabeth’s face and could not ignore the stinging of her sister’s words any longer. “Mr. Wickham is not what you think, Lizzy. If you knew what he was like, you would not wish him upon me. I was not taken in by him as you were.” She smiled inwardly at the stricken look on Elizabeth’s face. “I may look like I am not paying attention at times, but I assure you, I am listening. I have heard plenty of tales about Mr. Wickham.”
“Then why did you choose him to accompany you?” demanded Elizabeth.
Lydia sighed. “Because he knows where Derbyshire is, and he is weak enough to be led. I should think you would be able to piece that together.” She knew there was a cutting edge to her voice, but she did not care. Lizzy was Papa’s favourite. “I am not so stupid as you think.”
You’ll note Lydia is jealous of her sister, which can happen when one daughter is shown preference over another especially if the non-preferred daughter longs for the attention of the parent showering attention on her sister. This Lydia is not who anyone expects her to be. She is a unique mixture of the astute and the absurd. She is also a young lady looking for acceptance and a place where she can be nurtured completely and can shine as she ought. (And Lydia will shine in her very Lydia-like fashion.)
Another familiar character who will show himself to be not at all what you expect him to be is the hero of book four:
“That is a serious look you are wearing,” said Richard as he slipped into the library at Pemberley. “Letter of business or pleasure?”
“Business,” said Bingley with a sigh. “An agreement has been breached, and I am uncertain of the best method for rectifying the situation.”
Richard settled into a large leather chair and tossed one leg over the other. “What are your options?”
Bingley shrugged and folded the paper without sealing it. “Write to an associate and have him deal with the issue or go see it done myself.”
Richard pondered this information for a while. “Is it a serious breach?”
Bingley nodded. “Damaging,” he blew out a breath, “but the remedy is not without significant risk either.”
The comment caused Richard to raise a brow and look eagerly at Bingley. “Is this remedy something that would fall outside of the law.”
Unwilling to admit such a thing, Bingley tilted his head and gave a half shrug.
Richard smiled. “I had not thought you capable of such.” There was a note of pride in the colonel’s voice.
Ah, Bingley! (Sigh.) Not many will expect the ferocity with which such an amiable fellow is willing to fight for those he holds dear. It is Bingley who will bring about the final resolution involving the last two of the evil men I mentioned earlier.
I will warn you here — the story told about one of those evil men involves the sexual assault of a family member. The incident is not described in great detail, but it could still be enough to cause discomfort for some readers, which is why I am mentioning it here. Rest assured, evil gets its just punishment in this series. But even so, scars and consequences remain.
And there you have it —
By purchasing Willow Hall, Darcy thought he was helping Lucy escape her uncle, which he was. However, he ended up buying so much more, for with Willow Hall came a place where he would find a second chance at love, a place where Lydia could finally find herself, as well as the improvement she needed, and a place where Bingley could fight to get back what he had lost when he followed the advice of his friend. Several happily ever afters will happen in Derbyshire. Each couple will take a different path to their happiness, but one thing will remain true through it all —
At Willow Hall, love might just surprise you.
You can always know which of my books are in Kindle Unlimited by visiting the “Books Currently in Kindle Unlimited” page on my blog. (That’s a rather self-explanatory page name, isn’t it? LOL). An easy short link to find this page is bit.ly/KUreads
To mark the beginning of Willow Hall’s KU enrollment period, I am giving away one ebook copy of the Willow Hall box set.
To enter the contest, just leave a comment below.
Contest closes September 10, 2019, at 11:59 PM Eastern.
Winner will be announced on September 15, 2019.