Preview of My Next JAFF: “The Mistress of Rosings Park”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Basis of the Tale: The story begins in late June 1813. Darcy and Elizabeth have not yet met. No Bingley, yet. Mr. Collins did propose to Elizabeth, but ended up marrying Charlotte. Elizabeth is making her first visit to Hunsford Cottage. Darcy has married Anne, but she only survived 7 months before passing. As Anne theoretically inherited Rosings Park at her majority, as her husband, Darcy inherits the estate (a legal precedence of the time period), and he means to have Lady Catherine removed as its mistress. 

KEEP IN MIND, THE ENTIRE STORY IS TOLD FROM ELIZABETH’S POINT OF VIEW. 

NOTE! The novel has not yet entered into the editing process. Overlook any typos, spacing errors, etc. 

Chapter One

Late June, 1813

“That dreadful man will arrive tomorrow,” Lady Catherine de Bourgh bemoaned. “And I have had no opportunity to remove to the dower house.”

“There. There,” Mr. Collins commiserated. “Mrs. Collins and I will assist you. Your situation, if I may be so bold to say, is a true travesty, my lady. A travesty indeed.”

From her position in a chair in the corner of the room, Elizabeth Bennet watched in mild amusement as her father’s cousin attempted to calm the latest round of hysterics displayed by the grand dame of Rosings Park. Mr. Collins, who continually genuflected before his patroness, was a comical creature without even attempting to be so. Elizabeth said a silent prayer of blessing that the man had not become her husband; yet, she again pitied her long-time friend, Charlotte Lucas, who had readily accepted the man’s proposal out of fear of becoming a burden to her family.

In truth, Elizabeth had been surprised to receive an invitation for a visit to Kent from the Collinses. She suspected Mr. Collins had agreed in order to prove to Elizabeth she had made a mistake in refusing the man. The situation had been poorly played by all, and her relationship with Charlotte had suffered greatly. Their bond had been badly shaken by her friend’s acceptance of Mr. Collins’s hand, a man who had proposed to Elizabeth and been rejected less than two hours prior to his proposal to Charlotte.

The scene of the man’s insolent superiority played through Elizabeth’s head as she watched Mr. Collins attempt to soothe Lady Catherine’s vexations.

“I am not now to learn,” replied Mr. Collins with a formal wave of his hand, “that it is usual with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favor; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time. I am, therefore, by no means discouraged by what you have just said, and shall hope to lead you to the altar ere long.”

“Upon my word, sir,” Elizabeth had cried, “your hope is rather an extraordinary one after my declaration. I do assure you that I am not one of those young ladies, if such young ladies there are, who are so daring as to risk their happiness on the chance of being asked a second time. I am perfectly serious in my refusal. You could not make me happy, and I am convinced that I am the last woman in the world to make you so. Nay, were your friend, Lady Catherine, to know me, I am perfectly persuaded she would find me in every respect ill-qualified for the situation.”

Elizabeth had been correct. At home it was Jane and Mary who tended to their mother’s “nerves.” Elizabeth would certainly not be as solicitous to Lady Catherine’s vapors as were the Collinses. She was more likely to tell the woman to “buck up.” Even so, she understood the Collinses’ position in this melodrama. Earlier, Charlotte had explained that Rosings Park had passed to Lady Catherine’s daughter when the young woman reached her majority, although it appeared to Elizabeth as if her ladyship had continued to run the estate. Miss Anne de Bourgh had married and had  to her husband’s estate. Reportedly, Miss de Bourgh had passed within months of her marriage, and the property now belonged to the lady’s husband. However, Lady Catherine had yet to abdicate her rule over the estate, which was none of Elizabeth’s business, but, if anyone had been foolish enough to ask, she would agree the estate could use a different hand on the helm. Despite the manor house being a true showcase, on her short walk of the grounds yesterday after services, she had noted how the parkland and the formal gardens did not reflect the proper care.

Elizabeth instinctively glanced to the window which overlooked the undulating lawn. She would love to claim a long walk in the park, but, if Mr. Collins meant to tend to Lady Catherine’s hysterics, the possibility of doing so was slim. It was not as if she could simply pardon herself and leave for a stroll about the grounds while her cousin was thus engaged. She realized this was an important moment in Mr. Collins’s life, for, if Lady Catherine was no longer in control of Rosings Park, what became of Mr. Collins’s living? And what became of Charlotte’s future? Elizabeth would remain to see if she might be of service to her friend and mend the gap that had split their friendship nearly a year prior.

Her thoughts were so engaged on what she might do to assist Charlotte beyond taking over some of her friend’s duties at Hunsford Cottage when the “play” before her shifted with the entrance of new character.

“The Earl of Matlock, my lady,” the butler announced unexpectedly.

Along with the Collinses, Elizabeth scrambled to her feet to curtsey. She had never been presented to an earl, and the idea pleased her for she thought both her father and her sister Jane would find Elizabeth’s recollection of the encounter amusing. As the earl crossed the room, totally ignoring anyone but Lady Catherine, both Mr. Collins and Charlotte slowly and silently drifted toward the corner of the room which Elizabeth occupied. The earl’s ample figure filled the room with its stoutness and with the gentleman’s obvious importance. In Elizabeth’s opinion, there was a strong likeness between his lordship and Lady Catherine. They both had the same aristocratic features, the cut of their noses and jawlines more attractive on the gentleman than they were on her ladyship.

“What the deuce are you doing, Catherine?” he demanded of his sister without even an acknowledgement of Elizabeth’s or the Collinses’ presence in the room.

The invisible servant, Elizabeth thought. She had often heard her father say those words in a derisive manner when observing others’ treatment of the working class. Now, she fully understood his contempt. The earl completely ignored her presence in the room, marking her place in his esteem.

“I expected to discover you removed to the dower house,” the earl continued. “Never thought you would take it upon yourself to set up such an uproar.”

“I have not had enough time to make my move,” Lady Catherine protested.

“Nonsense,” the earl countered. “Anne, rest her soul, passed some fourteen months prior. Darcy has provided you more than enough time to vacate the manor house. Sir Lewis left everything to Anne. This house and estate has been your daughter’s, not yours, for some seven years. Rosings Park does not belong to you. It never has. From the day Anne met her majority, Rosings no longer was yours to oversee. You must come to terms with this situation. My God, you are a Fitzwilliam. We do not condone such hysterics. In her kindness, Anne erred in allowing you to remain in the role of the Mistress of Rosings Park, but, you must understand, legally, you cannot remain at the manor house. Darcy has the right to demand your withdrawal. If you do not comply, he can have the magistrate force you from your home. Save your dignity, Catherine, and do what is necessary. Such would be our father’s expectations for his eldest daughter.”

“Darcy,” Lady Catherine hissed. “I am certain I have learned to detest that name! How can it be lawful for him to claim everything simply because he was Anne’s husband? I am Anne’s mother. Should I not have some rights to a home I have nourished and cherished since my wedding day? Darcy has only visited Rosings when it was necessary. He holds no allegiance to the estate.”

“It was your wish for Darcy to marry your daughter,” the earl reminded his sister in cold tones. “You cannot deny that it was so. Darcy’s father denied the connection when he was still alive, but with George Darcy’s death, you again began to badger the boy into marrying Anne. You knew Darcy would never make Rosings Park his home seat when his ancestral home is in Derbyshire. You wanted Rosings for yourself. And that is exactly who you must blame for this fiasco.”

“He carried Anne off to Derbyshire, without even as much as a by your leave,” her ladyship argued. “Darcy was to protect her, not kill her. You know he poisoned Anne.”

Elizabeth could not disguise her gasp of surprise. However, before anyone took notice of her presence in the room, Charlotte caught Elizabeth’s hand and tugged her further along the passageway.

“You are to forget what you just heard,” Charlotte warned. “This is none of your concern. None of mine or Mr. Collins’s concern beyond our duty to Lady Catherine as her tenants. We owe my husband’s living to her ladyship.”

Although Elizabeth would not soon forget the remark, she understood the unspoken words: Mr. Collins’s living depended upon what occurred between Lady Catherine and the unknown gentleman by the name of Darcy. “Certainly, Charlotte,” she whispered. “You are correct. I shall do nothing to jeopardize your position in the neighborhood.”

“Mr. Collins and I will be expected to assist her ladyship,” Charlotte reiterated. “It grieves me not to be in a position to entertain you properly.”

Elizabeth dutifully said, “I shall be content to walk the park and to learn something of the Kentish countryside.”

Charlotte nodded sharply. “It shan’t be a total solitary endeavor. My brother John has been presented leave from his duties with the Dover militia. He thought to return to Hertfordshire, but I convinced him to visit with me instead. I hope you will not mind that I have asked him to spend time with us at Hunsford Cottage.”

Elizabeth prayed Charlotte did not mean to push for an alliance between Elizabeth and John. She knew her mother and Lady Lucas often connived to place Elizabeth in John Lucas’s way. She adored the young man, but only in a “brotherly” manner. She had not set her cap for him.

“Devilish rum business,” Lord Matlock’s voice reached them again before Elizabeth could respond. “But Darcy has his rights. You chose to force his hand, and, now, you must live with your manipulation. Our nephew married Anne. It is not his fault your daughter died in a little over half a year of pronouncing her vows. Even though they held nothing more than familial affection for each other, who is to say they might have made the best of it for the remainder of their days—mayhap they would have had a half dozen children. That might have satisfied you to have grandchildren about you. Might have softened your nature. However, I do not think such a marriage would have made either Darcy or Anne happy. Like it or not, Catherine, they did not suit. Darcy adored his parents, and, whether you wish to recognize it or keep fooling yourself, George Darcy and our younger sister Anne were happy together. They loved each other deeply. Your belief that he should have chosen you instead of Anne is what drove you to force Darcy and your daughter together. You made your bed, now, you must lie in it.”

“Why did you not say all this beforehand—before my Anne’s marriage?” Lady Catherine demanded.

“I did say it, as did Lady Matlock, and my sons. You simply chose not to listen because you wished to be mistress of Rosings Park and use your courtesy title of ‘Lady Catherine’ from your reign as the daughter of an earl, rather than become the Dowager Lady de Bourgh,” the earl clarified. “Demme it, Catherine, with Anne’s passing, you did not even need to take on that dreaded stigma of ‘dowager.’ You could have simply been ‘Lady de Bourgh,’ a baronetess in your own right.” A long silence followed before Lord Matlock asked with a hint of sympathy, an emotion missing earlier from his voice. “Darcy is not the vindictive type. The boy says he has plans for Rosings Park that will provide you additional funds as part of your widow’s pension for the remainder of your days. Permit Darcy to tend the estate. It is admirable how you have handled Sir Lewis’s holdings for so long, but the political environment has placed even the wisest of land owners in this great kingdom at a disadvantage. If you heard half of what I do in the House of Lords, you would gladly step back from this charge. Permit Darcy to shoulder the responsibility. Accept the use of the dower house and enjoy your days without all these duties hanging over your head. Better yet, choose Bourgh Hall and join Society in London. There was a time you enjoyed the Season and all it brings. Allow the boy to do the work and claim what is your due. You served your husband well. No one can say otherwise.”

“Do I possess a choice?” her ladyship grumbled in what sounded of sarcasm.

“None whatsoever,” Lord Matlock pronounced in cold tone. His lordship clapped his hands together as if the business was finished. “Should I summon your butler and your maid to assist in your removal to Bourgh House.”

“As yet, I have not one foot in the grave. I am capable of removing to the dower house without your supervision. My staff is quite efficient. Moreover Mr. and Mrs. Collins will make certain my orders are completed in a timely manner.”

“Mr. Collins?” the earl asked.

Charlotte shoved her husband toward the still open door just as Lady Catherine declared, “Mr. Collins.” As if she suddenly recalled their presence in the room, the mistress of Rosings Park called out, “Mr. Collins? Where are you?”

“Here, my lady.” Collins bowed deeply as he stepped into the framed doorway.

“Tell his lordship you mean to assist me in this ugly business,” Lady Catherine ordered.

Elizabeth watched in amusement as Mr. Collins swallowed hard. He bowed again, nearly falling over in his obeisance. “Mrs. Collins and my cousin Miss Bennet will consider it not only our Christian duty, but, also, our pleasure to be of assistance to Lady Catherine in whatever manner necessary.” Mr. Collins motioned Charlotte and Elizabeth to join him in the doorway.

Elizabeth was just in time to note how the earl rolled his eyes when Mr. Collins bowed a third time in less than a minute. Dutifully, Elizabeth followed Charlotte in a curtsey.

Having recovered some of her renown bravado, Lady Catherine said, “I have only been notified this very day that the necessary cleaning and painting at Bourgh House has been completed. As Darcy initially indicated I might remove at my leisure, I did not press the workers in their task.”

Elizabeth thought this a foolish stance to assume, but she made no comment where her opinion would not be welcomed.

Lord Matlock shook his head in a disapproving manner, however, confirming Elizabeth’s opinion without it being voiced.

Lady Catherine quickly added in excuse, “I have not heard from Darcy for nearly a month.”

Lord Matlock overrode her objection by saying, “I dare say Darcy means to be in Kent by tomorrow, and I doubt you are not aware of his arrival. The boy has not one spontaneous bone in his body. We both know Darcy is not the type to appear without notice. You were informed, but chose to ignore the message. You have wasted your time, your ladyship. You have acted in denial of the inevitable.”

“Yet, there is no means for me to leave Rosings for, at least, another week.”

“You cannot demand that Darcy stay at the local inn. It would be little minded to demand he do so. You will make everyone in the family uncomfortable, including you. Making them to choose sides will not be a wise choice if you cherish your dignity.” He returned his gloves to his hands. “Yet, I doubt you much care for the opinion of others. You never did. Therefore, as I am not required in this matter, I will return to London.”

“Will you not, at least, stay for tea?” her ladyship countered.

“My countess has a supper planned this evening. If I press my horses, I could be there in time for the first course.”

Lady Catherine drew herself up in obvious indignation. “Then you held no intention to be of service to me.”

“I would have stayed if you were not so headstrong, but I do not care to argue with you. You cannot be swayed. As to the supper, Lindale promised to assist his mother, but you know the nature of my eldest son.” With that, the earl brushed past Elizabeth and the Collinses without even a nod of his head in recognition. A quick glance to Lady Catherine noted a crestfallen expression for the briefest of moments, which was quickly replaced by aristocratic arrogance.

A pregnant moment passed before Charlotte found her voice and moved forward to curtsey again to Lady Catherine. “With your permission, your ladyship, I shall ring for tea, and we will assess how best to proceed in solving your dilemma.”

“Yes . . . yes,” her ladyship stammered. “You are very kind, Mrs. Collins. It appears even my own brother means to see me removed from the house that has been my home for nearly thirty years.”

Although she found Lady Catherine’s manners abhorrent, Elizabeth did not think it fair of this “Darcy” fellow to drive Lady Catherine from her home any more than it would be for her Cousin Collins and Charlotte to drive Elizabeth’s mother, Mrs. Bennet, and any remaining unmarried sisters from Longbourn when Mr. Bennet passed. Yet, she had no doubt Mr. Collins would arrive in Hertfordshire at break neck speed when Elizabeth’s dear “Papa” took his leave of this earthly life. At least, Mr. Darcy had allowed Lady Catherine a year to move to another house upon the estate. Mrs. Bennet would not be accounted any such dignity.

* * *

She had made herself as useful as she could be in an unfamiliar house with an unfamiliar staff. While Charlotte and Mr. Collins tended to Lady Catherine’s complaints and mild hysterics, Elizabeth had accompanied her ladyship’s maid to the dower house to gauge its readiness and to determine what should be done immediately and what could wait for a few days.

“It might be best to open a few windows to air out the rooms,” Elizabeth suggested. “I do not imagine Lady Catherine would appreciate the hint of fresh paint lingering in the air.”

“You would be correct, miss,” Mrs. Fischer said. “Her ladyship is quite particular on how things are done.”

Elizabeth surveyed the spacious rooms. She would be happy to live in such quarters for the remainder of her days. From her place along the entrance hall, the house appeared to have received a thorough cleaning, but she would examine the other rooms before she departed Bourgh House, for there was much disorder in its presentation. She suggested, “Although it is not my decision, it appears to me her ladyship should choose which rooms to address first. As it is my understanding that Mr. Darcy is to arrive by late afternoon tomorrow, it would be best to name the rooms essential to Lady Catherine’s immediate comfort.”

“Her ladyship’s quarters, obviously,” Mrs. Fischer said.

“Absolutely,” Elizabeth concurred. “A drawing room.”

“The morning room”

“The kitchen,” Elizabeth added. “That appears a large enough challenge for day one.”

“Even that will be daunting,” Mrs. Fischer agreed. “But anything less will further upset Lady Catherine.”

“Afterwards, at least one room per day until the house is set to right,” Elizabeth instructed. “Has it been decided which members of the Rosings Park’s staff will accompany her ladyship to Bourgh House? I am assuming there has been no new hires to be in service to Bourgh House. Am I correct?”

“Not to my knowledge on either issue of staff,” Mrs. Fischer confessed.

Elizabeth thought those decisions should have been made long before this day arrived. Mr. Darcy should not be made to hire a new cook and butler and housekeeper simply because Lady Catherine preferred to ignore her future and live in the past. “It is likely best if we make a quick inventory of what furniture is available, then we should return to the manor house and determine what pieces hold sentimental value to Lady Catherine and make arrangements for them to be transferred here. I shall ask Mr. and Mrs. Collins to temper her ladyship’s reluctance to participate in this process.”

“Do you suppose Mr. Darcy will deny Lady Catherine her choice of staff and furnishings?” Mrs. Fischer inquired.

Elizabeth chose her words carefully. It would upset the Collinses if Elizabeth’s opinions offended her ladyship. “I possess no means of knowing whether such discussions have passed between the gentleman and your mistress, but, from what little I know of the situation, I doubt such has occurred. While women believe a room should be filled with memories, men prefer to think of a room’s structural usage foremost.”

“I expect you are correct, miss. Even though I suspect this transition will cause a rift in the family, I pray otherwise.”  

Elizabeth suspected a rift in the family already existed: Did not Lady Catherine accuse her son in marriage of murder?

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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