In Emma, Jane Austen describes Jane Fairfax in these terms: “With the fortitude of a devoted novitiate, she had resolved at one-and-twenty to complete the sacrifice and retire from all the pleasures of life, of rational intercourse, equal society, peace, and hope, to penance and mortification forever”
In my upcoming release, “Pemberley’s Christmas Governess,” such is Elizabeth Bennet’s fate. There has been no Mr. Bingley arriving at Netherfield. No prior meeting between Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth. Mr. Bennet has passed, and the family has been separated. Mrs. Bennet blames Elizabeth for their fate, for Elizabeth has refused Mr. Collins. Lydia, Kitty, and Mrs. Bennet are with the Phililpses. Jane, Mary, and Elizabeth have been sent to live with the Gardiners, but Elizabeth has quickly taken a position as a governess so as not to place additional encumbrances on her family and to pay her “restitution” for thinking herself above Mr. Collins.
Meanwhile, Darcy has succumbed to the family pressure and has married Anne de Bourgh. He thought he could “save” his cousin, but Anne preferred being taken care of and she died in chid birth. Darcy tends his infant child, Cassandra. It is five years into the future—five years after the original setting of Pride and Prejudice.
Now, before I share an excerpt from the tale to tempt you to place your preorder, let’s take a look at the life of a governess in Regency England.
The governess of a house is not a servant, in the sense we think of servants, for they have experienced an upbringing for the lady of the house, not one of the servants, nor is she a member of the household. They do not fit in with the upper female servants such as the nanny or the housekeeper because those servants might hold an exalted place in the household, but they are from humble beginnings. Generally, she lives a solitary life. Her finances are reduced. Governesses had to “dance on a tightrope.” If they were pretty, they could become easy prey for the gentlemen of the house. S Dinah Birch writes in her review of Other People’s Daughter: The Life and Times of the Governess by Ruth Brandon sats:
Their “predicament was earnestly debated in journals, advice books and manuals, educational treatises, newspapers, charitable commissions, lectures, reviews and memoirs. She became the object of inadequate charity, useless compassion and offensive condescension. Worse still, she had to endure the sense of having fallen from her proper place in the world, for most governesses had been brought up amid domestic comforts and cheerful expectations.”
I thought I would tempt you with Darcy and Elizabeth’s first meeting. Enjoy! Then run over to Amazon to preorder the book, which releases on November 29, the Monday after Thanksgiving.
As Darcy and Georgiana descended the steps, the main door swung open, and the image of his favorite cousin and most trusted confidant stepped down from the carriage to stretch for the briefest of seconds before greeting Mr. Nathan with a good-natured slap on the back. Spotting Darcy and Georgiana, the colonel crossed the short distance to the door and entered the foyer with a wide grin marking his lips. Darcy, instinctively, thought his cousin’s actions odd, for, most assuredly, Edward should be tending to the lady serving as his traveling companion first.
However, before Darcy could lodge an objection or ask of the unknown lady, the colonel was striding toward him to catch Darcy up in a very masculine hug, slapping Darcy’s back hard in a demonstration of affection. “Too long, Darcy!” his cousin declared. “Permit me to look at you.” Edward leaned back and grinned again. “You age well, Darcy.”
“Must be the Darcy blood,” Darcy said with a shared smile to mark his tease. “The Fitzwilliam blood makes a man a rascal of the first tier.”
The colonel laughed easily. “That it does, Cousin!” Edward turned immediately to scoop Georgiana into his arms. “You cannot be my sweet Georgiana,” he declared with a wide smile of pleasure. “You are a fetching young woman. My Georgie is a thin wisp of a girl.”
Georgiana giggled while slapping jovially at his chest with the back of her hand. “You must put me down, Cousin.”
“I cannot,” Edward asserted. “My heart is taken by the elegance of your countenance.”
Darcy noted the look of pure happiness on his sister’s face, but, before he could comment on it, from halfway up the stairs, the Countess of Matlock instructed, “Put Georgiana on her feet this second and present your mother a proper greeting.”
Edward looked up with adoration marking his features. “Yes, ma’am.” He kissed Georgiana’s forehead and then climbed the stairs to present his mother a proper bow of respect.
“None of that,” the countess chastised before wrapping her arms about him. Edward easily lifted her into the air, and, for the briefest of seconds, Darcy knew jealousy. He had been but twelve when he lost his mother, Lady Anne Darcy, and not a day had gone by he did not wish to claim just such a moment for his own.
Driving regret from his features, Darcy turned to greet Captain Stewart. “We are pleased you have decided to join us, sir.” He extended his hand in greeting. Outside, he caught a glimpse of a petite woman providing directions to what must be her maid and assisting Darcy’s footmen to separate the gentlemen’s trunks. A frown formed on his forehead. The lady should not be left to sort these things out.
“Welcome, Captain Stewart,” Lady Matlock called as she descended the stairs on her son’s arm.
The captain bowed properly and said, “Thank you and Darcy for accepting my presence along with the colonel.”
“Always glad for more company,” Darcy repeated, while searching the drive once again with his eyes for the woman, who, evidently, had disappeared.
Bingley and his youngest sister appeared to greet the new guests, and, so, Darcy slipped outside to ask Mr. Nathan what had transpired. “Where is the young lady, Nathan?”
“The lady insisted on following her abigail around the house to a ‘less than obtrusive entrance.’ She said she would speak to Mrs. Reynolds at the kitchen entrance.”
“Ridiculous!” Darcy growled as he went after the woman. “Miss! Miss!” he called, using his long legs to overtake her. “Miss, there must be—”
The lady turned to look upon him, and Darcy forgot to breathe. An odd sizzle of recognition swept through him—an emotion he had never felt previously, but one which felt natural, nonetheless, despite it sending his normal complacency on high alert.
The lady was a good head shorter than he, but not quite as petite as he had first thought. Delicate, very feminine features and a fragile bone structure could not disguise the firmness of character he discovered in her expression. Moreover, the lady possessed the type of eyes in which a man could easily become lost. Intelligent eyes. They glistened from the cold, but when they looked at him, Darcy thought he could see a future that had long evaded his multiple attempts at consideration. They were green eyes with a touch of woodsy brown. Whether he liked it or not, he suspected they would haunt his dreams tonight, but he took quick note and found they were equally “haunted,” providing the woman a hint of vulnerability—a look which made him want to reach out and tug her into his embrace and offer her his protection.
Holding his hands tightly in fists at his side to keep the tug of possession from claiming his good sense, he said stiffly, “There is some mistake, miss. You are to join us in the family part of the house. The colonel wrote specifically to ask we welcome you into our home. Please permit me to escort you inside.”
She stared at him with curious interest marking her features. A small smile tugged at the corners of her lips, and Darcy had the distinct feeling a smile on her lips might be his undoing. “I did not wish to interrupt the colonel’s homecoming. He has spoken often of the wonderful times he has spent at Pemberley.” She glanced around. “It is truly a magnificent estate, sir.”
“I am pleased you find it so,” Darcy said, as a smile also claimed his lips. “You should view it in the spring and summer when it is green and full of color.”
She sighed deeply. “I would enjoy doing just that so very much. When I was—” The lady paused, giving her head a good shake. “My memories are not significant or of interest to you, sir.”
Darcy was not best pleased with her response. He would have liked to hear more of her opinion of his estate and her memories, but, instead, he presented her a slight bow. “Permit your maid to take your bags—” He looked to the girl, who appeared familiar. “I have seen you before, have I not?”
The maid dipped an awkward curtsey. “Yes, sir. I be Mr. Crownley’s daughter, Hannah, sir.”
“Of course,” he said. “I thought you away from home.”
“I was, sir. In Gloucestershire.”
Darcy nodded his acceptance. “I hope your mistress means to allow you to spend time with your family. Crownley will wish to see you for Christmas.”
“I have already told Hannah she may spend as much time as she likes with her family,” the lady explained.
“Good,” Darcy stated. “Then permit Hannah and my men to secure your bags in your quarters, and come away with me.” He offered the woman his arm. “The colonel’s mother is eager to take your acquaintance.”
She hesitated. “But I do not know your name, sir,” she said with a pert lift of her chin and with what sounded of a tease in her tone.
He smiled easily, realizing it had been forever since he had felt this light-hearted. “There is no one about to introduce us. The colonel is in the house,” he reminded her.
The lady glanced over her shoulder to the maid. “Hannah holds both of our acquaintances. Could not she perform the deed?”
Darcy could not look away from the lady’s countenance. He said with another grin of satisfaction for the privilege of speaking to such an enchanting woman, “Miss Crownley, might you provide me the acquaintance of your mistress?”
The maid giggled, but she managed a proper curtsey. “Lard, I never thought—” The girl sobered immediately. “Mr. Darcy, may I give you the acquaintance of Miss Bennet? Miss Bennet, the master of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy.”
“Charmed, Miss Bennet.” He repeated with a bow. “If you have no objections, miss, I would see you inside the house. You must be quite chilled through standing outside for so long. Derbyshire winters are deceptively cold.”
The lady curtseyed. “Charmed indeed, Mr. Darcy,” she said softly, before placing her gloved hand upon his arm.
As he turned her steps toward the main entrance, in Darcy’s mind, time slowed. Desire as he had never known found a place in his chest. Instead of the main door, he was half-tempted to lead her to a nearby folly and enjoy more of the lady’s smiles. An insidious whisper pronounced her as his. Yet, when he reached the still open door, reality slapped him in the face.
“There you are, Miss Bennet,” his cousin said as the lady left Darcy’s arm to stand beside his cousin. Edward said, very precisely, “My lady, with your permission, I would give you the acquaintance of Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Miss Bennet, my mother, the Countess of Matlock.”
Darcy looked on as the woman, who had just bewitched him with a simple smile, executed a perfect curtsey. “I am humbled, my lady, by your kind recognition.” She glanced to the colonel and smiled largely. “Colonel Fitzwilliam has told me numerous tales of his family.”
The countess arched an eyebrow that said she thought Edward’s actions odd, as did Darcy, for his cousin had shared nothing of the lady with any of his dear family, but Miss Bennet had said something similar to him only moments earlier. Darcy’s aunt smiled her “social” smile. “I believe I speak for all of the colonel’s family in saying we will be most happy to learn more of you, Miss Bennet. For now, welcome to Pemberley.”
From a place on the staircase, Hurst called out, “Now, now, boys. No way for children to act. Louisa, I say do, something!”
Mrs. Hurst caught one of the boys just as Mrs. Anderson came rushing upon the scene. The nurse presented the gathering in the foyer a quick curtsey. “I apologize, Mr. Darcy,” she said, wringing her hands in obvious distress. “I be puttin’ Miss Cassandra down for a nap, and the boys slipped out when Megs was called away to assist Cook. They followed their parents after Mr. and Mrs. Hurst left the nursery.”
Mrs. Anderson wrung her hands as if she was fearful of Darcy’s disfavor. He did not like the look on the woman, who had been very loyal to his family over the years.
He said, “No harm, Mrs. Anderson. I will ask Mrs. Reynolds to have Megs and another maid take turns in assisting you. I am grieved to have added to your duties. I will see you are readily compensated.”
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Darcy. Might I be of assistance, sir? I would be happy to return the boys to the nursery and entertain them until the maid can return to her duties in the nursery.” Miss Bennet’s earnest expression said she spoke honestly. “Surely there are some items in the house that can be used to entertain the boys. Toy soldiers, perhaps, from when you and the colonel were younger. Most large households store such items away as the children age.”
His cousin suggested, “The grey trunk. Hey, Darcy. We kept all our best cavalry in it.”
Darcy nodded his understanding and looked to his butler.
“I believe it was placed in the attic some years back, sir. I can have someone bring it down immediately, Mr. Darcy.”
“We should have done so before now,” Mr. Darcy admitted, although, in reality, it should be the Hursts’ responsibility to see their children were entertained.
Miss Bennet immediately handed her cloak, bonnet, and gloves to Mr. Nathan and then climbed a few steps to claim the hand of first one of the Hurst boys and then the other. “Why do you not come with me? Mr. Darcy has promised us a treasure chest full of toys to explore together. Will that not be grand?”
The youngest of the two said, “Yes, ma’am.”
The lady turned to Darcy. “With your permission, sir,” she murmured.
Darcy attempted to keep the frown from his features, but he knew he failed. “I must object, Miss Bennet. It would be the worst of society to accept a young lady into my home as a guest and then expect her to perform the work of a governess. Neither I nor my household can impose upon your good nature in such a manner.”
“I assure you, sir, I would not feel put upon in any such way. I prefer to make myself useful, and, as my position in society is one of governess, please permit me to assist you.”
Without waiting for his permission, she turned the boys’ steps toward the above storey and gracefully climbed the stairs to where Mrs. Anderson waited to show her the way. As her little party turned toward the nursery, he heard her say, “You must tell me your names. I am Miss Bennet.”
“Governess?” the countess asked her son. “Did Miss Bennet say she was a governess?”