So Much Happening

The 12 months from August 2019 to August 2020 were amongst the most productive of my writing life. I published (independent and through Meryton) in excess of 320,000 words.

August 2019: The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion

November 2019: Cinders and Smoke in the Falling for Mr. Thornton anthology

June 2020: In Plain Sight

August 2020: The Longbourn Quarantine

There are also two substantial fragments that were unpublished at the time of original release. One…the Epilogue to In Plain Sight(about 2,000 words) was added to the most recent editions of the book. It, for those of you who already have the book, is reproduced as an excerpt in a previous blog post in this location (scroll down). The second is a fragment from The Longbourn Quarantine. This is a behind-the-scenes excerpt that would fit within the context of the latter part of Chapter Six. See the excerpt below.

Since then, I have been head down and hip-deep in composing the eighth (and final) book in the Bennet Wardrobe Arc, The Grail: The Saving of Elizabeth Darcy. This book is set for publication by Meryton Press in December 2021. The book ties together everything to which the previous seven have been alluding.

However, this is not the only item on my plate.

Meryton Press and I also reached an agreement for the company to re-edit and re-publish my backlist: the seven Bennet Wardrobe books as well as Lessers and Betters. That’s great news. However, in order for Meryton to their work, I have had to go back into each book of the nine and review what I thought was unchangeable, absolutely fabulous prose. I will not burden you with my tale of woe. However, suffice to say that what I thought was wonderful four years ago is vastly improved by everything I have learned since then: including grammatical niceties.

I am working to present Meryton’s editor-supreme, Ellen Pickels, with a credible final manuscript of each book which will republish one-per-month on the following anticipated schedule: ((I have included universal links to Meryton Press editions already published.))

April: Lessers and Betters

May:  The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey (Wardrobe Volume 1)

June: Henry Fitzwilliam’s War (Wardrobe Volume 2)

July: The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Epoque (Wardrobe Volume 3)

August: Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess (Wardrobe Volume 4)

September: The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn (Wardrobe Volume 5)

October: The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament (Wardrobe Volume 6)

November: The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion (Wardrobe Volume 7)

December: The Grail: The Saving of Elizabeth Darcy

I look forward to finishing all of the projects so that you may enjoy an optimum reading experience.

Please enjoy this behind-the-scenes fragment from Meryton Press’s edition of The Longbourn Quarantine.


(c) 2020 by Donald P. Jacobson. The Longbourn Quarantine was published by Meryton Press in August 2020. Reproduction or republication without the author’s consent is prohibited.

‘Tis early days in the quarantine. Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy as well as Caroline and Charles Bingley have fled the smallpox epidemic breaking out across England hoping to shelter at Netherfield. However, they discovered that the house is uninhabitable after a mob of frightened people had ransacked the home. The foursome arrived at Longbourn only to be kept there by a mandatory quarantine. Caroline being Caroline, she has abused James the Footman (who appears in other works as James Foote after he leaves Longbourn). This scene is in Longbourn’s kitchens as Mr. Hill unburdens himself of his choler over Miss Bingley’s treatment of James. 


Longbourn, April 4, 1812

George Hill was not well pleased with how events were unfolding in Longbourn’s parlor. Of course, if the master, mistress, or any of the five young ladies had been asked the butler’s mood, they could not have offered anything in reply. The hereditary leader of Longbourn’s servant family—his father Silas had served both Mr. Richard and Mr. Samuel before passing the reins to his eldest—could only be described by family and visitors as being identical to any good steward of any house in the land: unflappable. Hill firmly believed that showing emotion that would draw attention to those in service to the Bennets would be unbecoming.

The events of the past several days—from riot to quarantine—had seen Hill calmly doing what he could to ensure the comfort of the manor’s residents. The mistress had efficiently sorted the four guests imposed upon them by Sir William. As headman, Hill had counseled the entire staff that tempers would be short as the great and the good rubbed on one another in too-close quarters. He recalled tales told by his father of when Mr. Richard—the current master’s grandfather—housed ten officers of his company when they mustered at Longbourn. Then they marched off to Culloden to put paid to the Pretender’s aspirations. Of course, the gentlemen were none-the-worse-for-wear, used as they were to doubling up from their school days.

‘Twas clear that Longbourn’s patience and reputation as a hospitable home would be tested over the next fortnight.

Hill had seen good guests and bad pass through the manor’s front door. He found that neither group paid much attention to him. Of course, that might have been because he was Longbourn’s butler, and gentry instinctively treated senior staff—their own or not—with a degree of deference. Mayhap the silver on his roof or the lines on his wife’s face reminded visitors of their elder relatives, at least enough so that they subdued their most abusive inclinations. However, they often reserved offensive behavior—nothing of which Mrs. Bennet on her worst days would ever match—for the maids and the footmen, those younger and weaker than they.

Well-mannered company tended to be invisible to the staff. Those who acted otherwise in Longbourn’s precincts were rare enough that the exceptions were well-noted.

Mr. Bennet’s distant cousin, the vicar Collins, had spent several weeks beneath Longbourn’s eaves after last year’s harvest. He reserved his obsequious comments for the young ladies and Mr. Bennet. However, this man of God also found the time to bully Cook’s kitchen skivvy and importune more than one of the upstairs maids. Mrs. Hill found it necessary to speak to the mistress who slipped a few shillings into the hands of the offended parties and suggest that they spend time with their families.

Miss Bingley, on the other hand, had managed to avoid overstaying her welcome at Longbourn last year through the simple expedient of rarely joining her brother when he and Mr. Darcy called at the house. Yet, when she condescended to accompany the gentlemen, she invariably found ways to reduce Sarah to tears through spiteful critiques of the maid’s attentiveness and speed.

Now, however, the ginger-haired poseur—George Hill was proud to serve a long-established gentle house and disdained those who tried to hide their roots in trade—was forced to do that which she previously had not. She was required to spend time as a guest at Longbourn. Every lesson Miss Bingley had been taught demanded that she politely deal with her hostess. She also had to bear up at the edge of the twin whirlwinds that were Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia. She was not holding up well under the assaults to her pretensions. Hill took some comfort from the lady’s discomfort.

Hill had earlier chalked her up as a woman who needed to prove to herself that she was worthy of the lofty social standing to which she aspired. Her problem, in Hill’s opinion, was that, unlike the young Miss Frances Gardiner who wed the master and left her roots in trade behind, Miss Bingley was wealthy. The mistress was at heart a humble woman who recognized that she had improved her station beyond all expectations through her marriage. On the other hand, Netherfield’s former hostess was living proof that wealth could purchase neither manners nor taste.

And, today’s tableau proved that.

Evidence that the good man’s choler was up appeared on his long cheeks as he—at least for Hill—stormed into the kitchens startling his wife and Cook. The red stain was not the beguiling tint that had graced Miss Bennet’s countenance last autumn when Mr. Bingley called. No, this was the angry hue of a sunrise lifting itself above the greyish mist driven by southeasterly winds racing from Iberia across Biscay to crash against Devon and Cornwall.

The butler dropped into a chair at the servant’s table with an exasperated sigh. He had neglected to fully close the kitchen door, allowing the beautiful sounds of Longbourn’s pianoforte to waft in. While the three adults loved Miss Mary as if she were their own, ’twas clear that another was at the keyboard given the entrancingly elegant sound.

Hill closed his eyes and allowed the waves of notes wash over him in a partially successful effort to calm his soul. “That ’tis what true beauty t’is about. ‘eaven must be short an angel, what with the grace Miss Darcy puts into that music.”

His wife gave a knowing nod to Cook and laid a sticky bun on a small plate and placed it and a cup of coffee before her husband. Alma Hill, like George, long had been in service to the Bennets: ever since she followed her mistress from Meryton’s High Street to the solid brick mansion alongside Longbourn Lane.

“There, now, George. Set’le yerself,” she said, her Hertfordshire “Rs” rolling from the depths of her throat, “Ye need hae that cuppa. Lucky for ye, Miss Lydia hae nay been through the kitchen yet or that bun’d be long gone.”

Hill grumbled around the buttery layers of the pastry, “I’d trade this treat if we could send that red-headed witch ta Lucas Lodge!”

Mrs. Hill waited patiently and husbanded her own cup. She knew that, given time, her man would come to the point.

Then it began, pouring out of him like a double-batch cake in a small pan. “I know ye be jugglin’ lit torches with ev’ry chamber filled and bed linens needin’ refreshin’ ‘n th’ like. So I put Jimmy Foote ta use fetchin’ an’ carryin’ in th’ parl’r.

“That Miss Bingley—an’ I wag’r thut she be a Miss fur a ver’ long time—wrinkled that pointy nose of ‘ers ‘as ‘e passed by. Then ta n’bdy in partic’lar, but she made sure she were lookin’ ta the hearth where the mistress sat, she let loose complain’ ‘ow in town th’ grooms know ta stay out in the stables whur th’ ‘orses’ stink covers up ‘other objectionable odours!’

‘Now Jimmy is a young feller an’ is well-aware whut a man ‘oo works ‘ard smells like. None ‘o us got our church baths on Satiddy thanks to those louts from ‘ertford and St. Albans. T’aint as if ‘e was paradin’ about like ‘e was some town dandy. ‘e was doin’ ‘is job…the one the master pays ‘im ta do…an’ th’ one that ‘elps that woman hae her tea ‘ot and ‘er biscuits crisp!

“But, nay, she embarrasses ‘im in front of all o’ our ladies. I t’wasn’t sure, but I relieved ‘im of the tea tray afore ‘e ‘ad an unfort’nat accident right next ta that Bingley woman. Sent ‘im off ta cool down with John Coachman.

“If she thinks Jimmy smells of the stables, then, by God, let him give ‘er ‘er money’s worth!”

“George, ye sound like one o’ those frog Jacobins, ‘oo upset the nat’r’l ord’r back in ’92!” Alma gently chided knowing that if her husband could vote for Longbourn’s Member, he would follow Mr. Bennet’s lead and support the government.

Hill chuckled as her gibe deflated the last of his ire. “Ah, ye be the best ‘o women, Alma Hill. ‘Twas jest openin’ th’ windows ta air out, so ta speak. Th’ two o’ you,” taking in both Mrs. Hill and Cook at a glance, “got th’ best ears in Meryton.

“Let us finish up afore ‘erself wonders why thur be no ‘ot cross buns so close ta Easter we be.”

The three bent themselves to the senior servants’ prerogative of drinking hot coffee sweetened with some of Cook’s baking sugar. Then their peace was interrupted when James Foote bustled through the back door, a small boy in tow.

“Sorry ta bust in like this,” the young man exclaimed, “but Timmy ran o’er from Lucas Lodge. Got a lett’r from town that were ‘anded o’er th’ barricade. Mr. Angelo sent it ta Sir Will’m.”

In his hand he held a missive, its edges and corners besmirched in black ink.

Hill unconsciously rose to his feet: Mrs. Hill and Cook followed suit. This they did in respect for the news such a letter bore. Black meant but one thing.

“’Tis directed to Mr. Bingley.”

Posted in Austen Characters, Don Jacobson, Excerpt, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Writing | Tagged , | 1 Comment

To Epilogue or Not To Epilogue

“Life, my dear boy, is composed of a thousand mundane moments and may be equally dispersed between joy and trouble. Each, though, like a small pebble resting in a river’s current, contributes to the grand arc of existence, bending it toward its ultimate end.”

Lydia Fitzwilliam, Dowager Countess of Matlock (8th), letter to her Great-grandson, Viscount Henry Fitzwilliam, November 3, 1883  

The world of #Austenesque stories is replete with hundreds…no, thousands…of books with epilogues.

A staple in romance writing is the concept of “Happily Ever After.” Such a satisfying resolution is a response to an underlying human need that resonates through 120 generations of storytelling. We pray that, while none of us escapes alive from this life, we do, none-the-less, have the opportunity, the agency, to organize our corporeal existences in such a manner that the future resting just beyond that far horizon toward which the flow of time is carrying us will meet our fondest dreams and expectations. That is the space into which Epilogues step.

Yet, is that what life truly is? Or are we, as readers and authors, demanding and delivering escapes instead of compositions that challenge notional behaviors?

Are loves blinding, scorching across the heavens? Or, are they a slow-simmering pot of a particularly delectable soup? Are they a blend of both and fraught with pitfalls and detours? Are deaths noble and uplifting? Or are the majority simply sad endings: wheezes rather than shouts? Are they only reminders of the transitory nature of all existence?

The power of Jane Austen rests in that she explores the human condition, admittedly from her somewhat bucolic platform of a country gentlewoman, by sketching universal truths and personality archetypes. She then serves them up to her readers, perhaps not in quite as moralistic a manner as Milton or Pope, but still implicitly asking readers to learn from the actions of her characters. There is joy, sadness, merriment, and boredom.

But, she offers lessons for those perceptive enough to ‘see’ not ‘look’ at the portrait she paints. Do not make flash judgments. Be skeptical of “unchangeable” truths. Listen to advice but decide for yourself what is in your best interest.  Reflect. Re-assess.

In Austen, readers gaze into her mirror and wonder if this is how they appear to others. I am convinced that authors #InspiredByAusten ought to seek to emulate the good Lady and provide their readers more meat and less gravy: essentially, to elevate our prose and plots by placing tired tropes onto the shelf and reaching deeply into our writing toolboxes. If we are serious about creating literature, then we need to challenge our readers to stretch themselves, their tastes, and their imaginations against the possibility that the field becomes stale and predictable.

I am not suggesting that authors abandon the HEA. Miss Austen herself composed several paragraphs, if not complete chapters, at the end of her works positioning her major players in the firmament of happiness…or at least satisfactory outcomes (see Maria Rushworth). However, sending up works in which the only mystery is how the characters arrive at their Happily Ever After does, I believe, shortchange readers. If the HEA is the be-all and end-all of #Austenesque stories—and writers generally are constrained to use the one HEA as prescribed by Austen—are we in danger of creating derivative and duplicative work? Food for thought for which I have no easy answer.

Enigmatic endings, such as what Virginia Woolf composed for perhaps the greatest novel of the Twentieth Century, Mrs. Dalloway, where readers are left wondering if Clarissa ever discovers herself, may act to energize our genre.

If not the HEA, then what? I believe the solution is to be found in building the rich tapestry of lives fully lived within our books, laid out upon pages—either digital or clay-finished. Those colorful threads can be found in offering our characters the opportunity to act like recognizable human beings. In the process, we readers are provided a glance behind the curtain to apprehend the constellation of moments that make up a three-dimensional life lived in the present (although written in the past) tense.

For instance:

In the year since their arrival, the Bennets had begun—contrary to Tom’s earlier practice of avoiding large terpsichorean gatherings—a weekly habit of venturing out onto parquet expanses. While their efforts at some of the Latin dances were laughable—although both Tom and Fanny were the first to chuckle and giggle—their Viennese and traditional waltzes were acknowledged to be particularly compelling.      The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament, Ch. XXXVI

The Bennets, by this point in The Avenger, have once again found comfort in each other’s company. For many married couples in the late 1940s dancing was a welcomed activity. Obviously, I was using them stepping onto the floor at the Netherfield Harvest Ball of 1948  to illustrate how Thomas Bennet had changed. However, where before the Bennets had been abnormal to the extreme, now they are behaving in a normal and unremarkable way.

As the letter from Lydia to Henry Fitzwilliam quoted above (yes, another fragment of the Bennet Wardrobe Universe crossing into this one) suggests, lives are not composed of great events but rather are an amalgam of tics, observations, happenings, and comments. Each, when taken individually, may be interesting. When taken as a group, though, they establish a context that allows another to ascribe a deeper meaning. Ultimately, the collection creates a life.

Are not some of the “best” moments in #Austenesque fiction found in a breath-taking hot air balloon ride, the whimsey of a ghostly woman bound to a flesh and blood man, or the tickling of champagne bubbles beneath the nose of a young lady at her first ball?

Thus, I arrive at the idea of the Happily Ever Now. Again, Tom and Fanny Bennet are enjoying (and seen to be enjoying) a waltz. They are happy—in this moment, in the Now far removed from the Regency in which they exist. They are demonstrating human resilience and are happy.

They likely will be happy again, but their lives will also be punctuated by sadness. The path from joy to grief and, through recovery, to joy again is, I am convinced, the cycle of human existence. At any stage of our lives from the moment of birth to the instant of that last breath, we exist solely in our own Present which is the only plane of existence available to us in this universe or to our characters in the fictional frames created first by Miss Austen and then ourselves.

“The meeting of two eternities—the past and the future is precisely the present moment.   Henry David Thoreau

Perhaps we might look at life…and this assuredly includes the fictional lives of our characters…like a string of pearls. Each orb adds something essential and interesting to the choker or triple strand. Length is not the determinant but rather quality: the more lustrous the pearls, the more intriguing the necklace. Thus, white and pink can and should alternate with black or purple. Life is not unremittingly cheerful, nor is it thoroughly grim.

On the contrary, ’tis possible to live on in joy when the camera and lights are turned off after the words “The End” appear. However, is it not more reasonable to assume that our characters will continue flickering between joy and sorrow to the end of their days much as they have done in the segment of their lives we have chronicled? I do believe this to be the case.

T’was with this thought in mind that I ended the print version of In Plain Sight with a declarative sentence:

So saying, Fitzwilliam Darcy sobbed.

Those are literally the last five words of a 120,000-word novel. The HEA is assumed given what transpired in the first 119,995 (chuckle). But, Darcy (and in his arms, Elizabeth and Georgiana) are Happy Right Now. This does not suggest that more will not happen as our characters move through their lives beyond the back cover.

I am asking the readers to be satisfied with this ending.


I did write an Epilogue for In Plain Sight. The #Audible recording called for an explanatory coda…if you think in musical terms…to come after the crescendo. Thus, the #Audible performance (if you have not listened to Amanda Berry read the Wardrobe books because 70+ hours is too much commitment, try her in IPS–her Justice Hastings is chilling and then heart-warming) features all of the original content PLUS an Epilogue of sorts. Not the nearly-Biblical listing of ‘begats’ that are the shape of so many postscripts, but rather an extra scene which tells much and leaves an intimation that our characters have continued to live their lives.

Please enjoy

(c)2020 by Donald P. Jacobson. In Plain Sight has been published in the USA by Meryton Press. Worldwide rights reserved. Any use without the expressed written consent of the author or Meryton Press is prohibited.

An Epilogue of Sorts

Watson’s Mill, Meryton, August 8, 1819

The bread line snaked past the trestle tables set up by the mill’s chained and padlocked iron gate. The counters were staffed by a patchwork of neighborhood notables leavened by folk whose hands showed the wear-and-tear of daily toil. The continuing economic collapse had left those dependent upon the now-silent spinning jennies and looms on the brink of starvation. Even in the midst of this privation, scarecrow children clad in rags gamboled around the flagged mews laid between the five-story brick edifice and the algae-covered millpond. The sturdiest mother’s heart palpitated when youthful exuberance threatened to overcome good sense as one little one or another streaked toward the greasy waters that usually fed the giant wheel powering the factory.  The watercourse was still now, its force unnecessary.  On the far side of the pool, the Lea-Mimram Canal was filled with a brackish sludge. The refreshing surges of Mimram water that usually swept through the channel were non-existent in this time of crisis.

Great cauldrons of soup steamed in the morning air. Freshly baked bread contributed a yeasty aroma that spoke of brighter days. Granaries controlled by Meryton’s squirearchy had been thrown open to feed the unemployed. Estate mistresses turned out their attics to fill the levy for Longbourn Chapel’s poor box.

Mr. Benton, an archdeacon for the St. Albans diocese, and Mr. Tomlinson, the town’s Methodist speaker, policed the queue, collecting tidbits of news from their female parishioners. Neither man engaged in tittle-tattle, but rather were taking the temperature of the neighborhood. Benton would gather tales of drunkenness, illness, pregnancy, and malnutrition and add them to his own wife’s burden. Mrs. Mary would take that intelligence and confidently march into Meryton’s four-and-twenty parlors of note and prod ladies to do their Christian duty. She was not above leaning upon her connections. Elizabeth Darcy, Jane Bingley, and Georgiana Cecil often would add their considerable social weight through gently worded invitations to cherished events in town. Those, however, were last resorts employed to motivate the most recalcitrant. Today, Mary Benton, her hair hidden beneath a kerchief, had turned to her two closest friends to manage the soup kitchen: Mrs. Wilson, now Pemberley’s housekeeper, and her husband, Henry, the estate’s steward. That worthy’s broad shoulders easily hefted kettles of stew from ground to table.

Tomlinson, lately a sergeant in His Majesty’s Army, used his earlier experience to winkle out the scent of discontent polluting the countryside. He had opened the Good Book when he had closed his military career. Tomlinson believed that a man served the Lord first, but he could also support the realm in a near-second place.  Women this day told him of caravans filled with mill workers rolling north to Manchester to hear Henry Hunt speak. He knew that his former master, General Fitzwilliam, would take these threads and weave a tapestry that he would lay before Liverpool’s cabinet.

The general was settled on a chair leaned against the bolted doors of the tavern opposite the manufactory. His equine soulmate, Imperator, had been left gamboling in one of Purvis Lodge’s paddocks where four or five of his favorite broodmares competed for his affections. Fitzwilliam snorted as he recalled his old friend, nearly twenty he was, prancing about the stable yard, nipping at youngsters to remind them that he was yet king.

Like Impy, Fitzwilliam was no country squire. His usual bluff demeanor and partial deafness did give him an air of rusticated geniality. Yet, he frequently surprised regimental colonels as he explained the facts of political and military life. No officer would ever forget that the horse-breeder at Purvis Lodge regularly cultivated his connections in the rarified high country. The militia never gave Meryton trouble.

Comfortably tilted back next to Fitzwilliam was James Foote. Foote’s invisibility, growing from his time as a Longbourn servant, had served the General well as the earl’s son stage-managed the dark ballet that kept the Czar, Metternich, and Talleyrand in their respective boxes. The less said about the Spaniard’s and their unraveling American empire, the better. For his part, Foote was adjusting to fatherhood as his wife, the former Miss Tomkins, had recently birthed their second son. That lady was seated beneath an oak shading the town square. Mrs. Foote, along with Charlotte Fitzwilliam, kept a weather eye upon a dozen children from various branches of the Longbourn family.

Also enjoying the cooling shade were two old friends. The black and white board lay upon a portable table set between them. Moves were made, but both men, widowers now after the fever of in the year Seventeen had swept off their ladies, spent more time chatting with each other about the thing of which older men often do: the world as it was when their joints were supple and their heads were full of hair.

Sir Michael Hastings, now retired, when in the midst of his bereavement two years ago, had found himself taking advantage of a long-standing invitation to visit Pemberley. There he met his college friend, Tom Bennet, who likewise was draped in black. The pair would sit side-by-side in the great library, a stack of books, and a bottle of port between them. Before long, they reignited their ancient comity. Realizing that loneliness was the quickest path to the grave for men of their ilk, an unspoken agreement was reached. Hastings closed up his Derby house and moved into Longbourn with Bennet.

The judge’s hand hovered above his castle—always a staunch tory, Hastings favored his bishops and rooks. A snuffling sound distracted him.

Affecting a grim look, he speared the miscreant with a beam from beneath bushy brows. The curly-headed youngster, old enough to be out of leading-strings but not so grown as to have escaped the nursery, was unmoved. He had the courage of a child well-acquainted with the fact that the Moon and Sun revolved around him.

Hastings growled. “Well, son, who do you belong to? All of your cousins look like Mr. Bennet here.”—he waved at his opponent who unsuccessfully tried to stifle his guffaw— “and I find myself at a loss.”

The little fellow stood straight and confidently began, “Of course I take after Mr. Bennet. He is my Grandpapa, after all! I am a Darcy!”

Then Master Darcy leaned in and confided. “My Mama told me that we were not Darcys today, but rather Smiths.”

So saying, he scurried off to join his older cousin, Miss Amelia Benton who had her head bent over a copy of Mrs. Sherwood’s History of Little Henry and his Bearer. While Bennet Darcy had his letters, Amelia was becoming more comfortable with the shaping of words; a ripe old seven years she was.

“And where are the…Smiths?” Hastings quizzed his housemate.

Bennet pointed with his chin as his eyes returned to the chessboard. “Last I saw, Lizzy and Will were strolling on the towpath.”


The shingle crunched beneath their feet as they left Meryton behind and approached Longbourn. The lady was clearly with child.

Elizabeth looked up at Darcy and smiled. “You know how happy you have made Mary and Edward. They have been feeding and clothing the mill families for months. Usually it is only Charlotte and Richard manning the barricades.

“Mary knows that you would be loath to leave Pemberley in August with my pending confinement. I will own that I would have preferred the cooler Derbyshire climes to semi-tropical Meryton. However, you appeared in our sitting room one morning and stated, ‘You are yet able to travel. Edward wrote me telling of their work at Watson’s, and he was concerned that your sister was wearing herself thin. She needed our help.

“And, you were correct, dearest. Mary is like a terrier and will not let go or ask for aid.”

Darcy looked down at his wife. The toes of his worn work boots kicked out from beneath the simply hemmed cuffs of his canvas pantaloons as he strode along measuring his steps to allow for his wife’s shorter pace. He shifted his shoulders beneath the red-checked cloth of his shapeless shirt. These garments rarely saw the light of day except when Fitzwilliam Darcy wished to move about incognito, to be unseen by all except the crowd.

“Elizabeth,” he said, “I approached you because I knew that Mary’s silence was out of love for you. Her fear would be that you would become agitated with the knowledge and immediately rush to the stables to have the horses harnessed.

“My own motivation was in a similar vein. I knew that if you had learned of this situation, you would have worried yourself trying to encourage me to overcome my protective nature and allow us to travel. I stole a march on you by acting first.”

He placed his hand atop hers resting in the crook of his elbow. “I knew that Bingley would never leave Thornhill, not with Jane so close to her own confinement. I had hoped to console myself with the thought that Mrs. Denny and Mrs. Keith would be in town. Then we could let this opportunity to be of service pass us by. But I soon wondered if the militia had decamped to its summer quarters in Brighton.”

Elizabeth nodded, “Your instincts were correct. Kitty, as the Colonel’s lady, is installed in her Regency Square house lording it over the regiment’s wives. As for Lydia, she has gone to her home in Bristol to await Captain Keith’s return from the Orient. T’was sweet of Charlotte to gift my sisters their own vacation by taking their children for the summer.”

Darcy smiled. “Acting on impulse was the right thing to do. I vow, Elizabeth, I am becoming more like Bingley every day! Speaking of things Bingley, and I ask this for informational purposes only, have you heard anything about the Soamses?”

Elizabeth peered up at him from beneath her bonnet’s brim. “It has been seven years. Not once in all that time have you asked about that awful man and his wife.”

“’Tis a time I would prefer to forget, dearest,” he softly replied, focusing his eyes toward where the arrow-straight ditch crossed onto Longbourn.

His wife sighed and answered, “Sir Thaddeus’ son is at Cambridge. His eldest daughter turned seventeen in February. Jane tells me they wished to launch Miss Soames into society this past Season but had to wait until May when their freedom to travel was renewed. They took a house in Portman Square.

“Lady Matlock wrote to say that she assisted Lady Soames, not wishing to punish the daughter for the sins of her parents. The countess found one of her friends to sponsor the girl at court. That acquaintance also threw a small soiree where Miss Soames played and sang. Apparently, that and her £22,000 dowry won her an offer from a viscount’s second son.”

Darcy nodded as they continued walking. After several minutes he continued, “Lady Soames must have been thrilled with her stepdaughter’s success.”

Elizabeth could feel her husband’s arm tense beneath her hand. “William, it is ancient history. We have three darling children and another on the way. We are done with them.”

Darcy relaxed. “And how many children has Sir Thaddeus gotten upon his wife?”

Surprised at the sudden change in direction, Elizabeth replied, “Five.”

Darcy’s voice rumbled, shivering her entire being. “Hmmmpf. Five to your three, Mrs. Darcy. Miss Bingley, or should I say Lady Soames, is undoubtedly more accomplished than you.”

Elizabeth squeaked and slapped his arm in faux outrage.

William smiled for he knew best how to cool her ire—real or assumed. Although his wife would never admit it, her pride over her appearance, although burnished by her own experiences in Hedgebrook’s halls, still burned as brightly as when she was but a maiden spinning across the dancefloor.

“I spoke with Bingley who passed on news about his sister. Charles told me that Louisa Hurst offered up that five confinements had left Lady Soames—how did he put it?—square-shaped,” Darcy related.

Lizzy looked shocked and then a beguiling giggle bubbled from between her bow-shaped lips.

Darcy recaptured Elizabeth’s errant hand, rubbing the soft spot between her thumb and forefinger. She smiled and began to hum that siren’s song he had first heard all those years ago echoing through Oakham’s forest as it dropped toward the Mimram.

Then husband and wife, convict and housemaid, moved down the path toward the manor house, its gables barely visible above a copse of oaks.

Fin Complet

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Working With Austen’s Secondary Characters

I realize that some readers may find The Bennet Wardrobe series to be too far away from the centerline (ODC) of traditional JAFF stories. I do love “Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam” tales and plan to write many once The Bennet Wardrobe is complete. But for now…

In 2014, well before I ever considered writing fiction (I had been earning my “keep” for 40 years as a copy and scriptwriter), a vale through which I was passing set my “what if” brownies to work. What if the other characters in Pride and Prejudice were as three-dimensional as Elizabeth and Darcy?

Perhaps it was one of the Caroline Variations I was reading at the time that inspired me to wonder if she had always been a grasping shrew, sneered at by all, lessers and betters alike. Honestly, I understood why Austen cast Caroline as she did (much as she did Lady C and Collins). She needed a literary device off which she could play Lizzy’s grounded self and Jane’s genial nature. A deeper development of Caroline Bingley was not required.

Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women resonated with me when I considered Caroline’s situation:

“Women are, in fact, so much degraded by mistaken notions of female excellence, that I do not mean to add a paradox when I assert that this artificial weakness produces a propensity to tyrannise, and gives birth to cunning, the natural opponent of strength, which leads them to play off those contemptible infantile airs that undermine esteem even whilst they excite desire.”   Wollstonecraft, Introduction (1792)

Reading Wollstonecraft’s words leaves us astonished at just how accurate Austen’s portrayal of an “accomplished woman” was. Could Caroline ever find redemption?

An excerpt from Volume 1 of the Bennet Wardrobe, The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, offers a thought.

“…Your Excellency and Mrs. Adams, may I present Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, Mr. and Mrs. Bingley, Miss Bingley and Miss Bennet?”

Mrs. Adams brightened and reached out to Caroline.  “Oh, Miss Bingley—you are Miss Bingley now, I assume because your sister has married—it has been far too many years since I saw you last.  Addie will be thrilled to know that we met you.  How are you doing, dear?”

Caroline visibly came to life at Mrs. Adams’ greeting.  This was an unspoiled part of her life, laid down before Darcy ever came into her ken, before the considerations of the ton and its artificial expectations and snobbery had taken advantage of her sense of inferiority.  With the Johnsons, Caroline did not have to fight to fit in. When she smiled back at Louisa Adams, years were stripped away from her face.  She chatted briefly with her old friend.The Keeper, Ch. XXXIII


Back to 2014. My first JAFF writing happened late one night in a motel room in Connecticut where I was staying with my family after a visit to my failing mother. The sheets of hotel scratch pad are carefully folded away. This fragment was a letter from Caroline Bingley to Jane apologizing for her behavior and thanking her sister-in-law for putting up with her for the past several years. Caroline had decided to change her life and leave Regency Britain to make a fresh start in the United States. As such, she was presuming upon her friendship with Louisa Johnson Adams, another daughter of trade, to accompany her as the couple returned to Washington City where Mr. Adams was to become Secretary of State in 1817.

Change—the heart of Pride and Prejudice—was what Lizzy and Darcy experienced in full over the course of the masterpiece.  The letter from Caroline, thrown up by my subconscious at a difficult time, lit the way to the idea that all of the sisters (and Thomas) were actually heroes in waiting. Miss Austen just did not have the literary reason to create an epilogue to P&P that would tell their stories.

Thus, many characters, in my view, could be afforded the opportunity to change and grow in the time of the Wardrobe after the Canonical weddings.

I dealt with Mary’s transformation in late 1811 in Volume 1 of The Bennet Wardrobe Series: The Keeper. Kitty’s story is told in The Exile. Thomas will stand for his family in The Avenger while Lydia will wander the dusty paths of Northwestern France in The Pilgrim. Thomas and Fanny will populate The Avenger.

The Bennet Wardrobe is an alternative tale in the Jane Austen Universe. While the characters are familiar, I have endeavored to provide each of them with an opportunity to grow into more natural personalities, although not necessarily in the Regency.  If they were shaped or stifled by the conventions of the period, the time-traveling powers of The Wardrobe helped solve their problems, make penance, and learn lessons once they had overcome the inner demons by giving them a chance to escape that time frame, if only for a brief, life-changing interlude.

Would it have been possible for them to do so staying on the Regency timeline?

Perhaps. However, something tickled my brain—maybe it was my youthful fascination with science fiction meeting my adult love for the Canon—that threw the idea of the Wardrobe up in front of me.  Now my protagonists could be immersed in different timeframes beyond the Regency to learn that which they needed to learn in order to realize their potentials and in the process carry the eternal story of love and change forward to even the 21st Century.

The Wardrobe Series is currently projected as six books to realize the grand arc of the Wardrobe’s Plan.

One of the other works that fits into the Bennet Wardrobe Universe is that roughly sketched (at this moment) book taking Caroline from 1816 through 1836. That aforementioned letter serves as the opening. I have never memorialized that handwritten missive until this moment. But, I imagine this will be the Prologue of The Education of Caroline Bingley…or perhaps as a flashback in the final book of the Bennet Wardroeb.


A Letter Found on the Mantel, April 1817

My dear Mrs. Bingley;

I fear that I must address you so formally in spite of the fact that you became my sister that day now nearly five years past when you married my beloved brother, Charles. I truly do not have the right, I believe, to address you as ‘sister’ due to the intentional harm which I inflicted upon you, a woman who bears no person ill-will and treats none with malice. That I delayed your happiest of days will be to my eternal regret.

As I was too blinded by years of frustration in pursuit of security and position—apprehensive as I was of the manner through which my worthy father earned his fortune—I failed to recognize that you and Charles shared that rarest of all treasures, a love born from true affection. Rather than allow my brother and you to live within that state so joyously described by the great King Solomon, I used deceit to condemn both of you to a time of sorrow and pain.

Certainly, and this is not written to justify any of my offenses, all that I did was driven by the circumstances in which women of our class must live. Without property, without rights, without position, and without prospects of maintaining or improving our lot, we must affiliate ourselves with men possessing all of that. I was molded to this purpose once I had matured enough to understand the nature of our world.

Over the past years of isolation, I have despaired at the manner in which the clay of my soul has been shaped by these forces. I fear that I have waited far to long to address these deficiencies—and so I now know them to be—in my character. In the end, property, rights, position, and prospects mean nothing without love.

You and your sister, Elizabeth, were not so bent by these forces. Perhaps your upbringing in bucolic Hertfordshire by Mrs. Bennet was not so deficient after all. For you, the bright lights of the ton hold no great allure. Rather, it is the light in your husbands’ eyes that illuminate your existence. That glow is nothing less than the deepest love.

Would that my eyes could perceive such happiness in another’s visage!

So, Mrs. Bingley, Jane, Sister, this note is one of many layers.

First, I beg your forgiveness, but I also wish you to understand that I intend to earn that solicitude that I so crave. I will change that which has defined my existence these years past.

That leads to my second point.

I have resolved to leave England, to travel to a new land to seek that atonement. Perchance I will discover that love which has so blessed you and so escaped me. My brother’s interests are found far and wide, so I will be able to seek comfort, if needed, in the arms of family.

However, while it may strike you as unseemly for an unmarried woman of my age to leave all with which she is familiar behind, this is the only way I can discern to become the woman worthy of the approbation of you and my brother as well as your sister and her husband.

I will return when I am able to once again look in a mirror and smile back at that face which is now so distasteful to all.

With deepest regards for you and your good health,

Caroline Bingley



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In Plain Sight Is In The World

As I am in the middle of the blog tour for In Plain Sight, I just wanted to drop a note to all my loyal followers.

Engaging with all of you every day for the past week-plus has given me new insights into the world of #Austenesque Fiction. Thank you for your kind comments about the book, my process, and my thoughts on how our genre of Austen Variations fits into the broader literary world. By now, you know that IPS is not your regular meat-and-potatoes P&P variation. It was designed to break the mold, and I have to salute the hard work put in by Janet B. Taylor on the cover, Nicole Clarkston on the beta edit and Ellen Pickels on the final edit. The book would have been less without your talents.

I have loaded a few reading of excerpts (my favorite scenes from the book) up on my YouTube Channel. Please feel free to visit and comment there, too.

Otherwise, I am looking to begin wor on the final book in the Bennet Wardrobe Series. This will end my labor of love somewhere around the five year point. Look forward to your thoughts and input on that project.

Until then, please enjoy In Plain Sight and write reviews of Goodreads and Amazon.

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When Elizabeth? When Lizzy

This blog post originally appeared at on April 22, 2020. I offer it here because it explores one of the most important aspects of my relationship with Meryton Press. The novel, my first “pure” ODC effort will be published by MP in the next several weeks. 

My most recent novel, In Plain Sight, is in the formatting stage with Meryton Press as I write this. We have moved through the agony…and the joy…of editing. I commented to some of my friends just how excited I was to graduate from self-publishing to having my work brought out by a publisher…and a publisher with the stellar reputation owned by Meryton Press. It was invigorating! It reminded me of the pleasurable experiences I had back in the 1990s when McGraw Hill issued three of my non-fiction books. Good editors make the work better. Great editors are God’s Gift to writers. They find an author’s voice and make changes that are seamless and invisible. Ellen Pickels is in the latter category.

But, the purpose of today’s missive in this time of quarantine comes from the observation of my draft editor, Nicole Clarkston, a remarkable author in her own right. She offered up the point that I tended to use Elizabeth and Lizzy interchangeably. Her note to me was that Miss Austen used Elizabeth almost exclusively. That revelation jarred me as I had not considered that the extensive use of Lizzy might offer a less than authentic experience.  And, off I went back through 121,000 words looking at the times I used either or both.

I had been treating the two appellations as simple labels: Elizabeth or LizzyLizzy or Elizabeth. On the surface, it did not seem to matter.  Then I thought about how Miss Austen and Regency society considered names. Obviously, there was the formality of Mr., Mrs., or Miss. Next, we have all been trained to grab the cue of the unusual nature of the use of Christian names: that only the closest of friends or intimate partners used their first names when addressing each other. That gives rise to all sorts of literary possibilities. Darcy betrays his deepest feelings when he slips and breathes Elizabeth. And Caroline Bingley’s overt familiarity by truncating Miss Elizabeth to Miss Eliza, a privilege only granted to her closest friend, Miss Lucas, is another cue, one that reminds us that Miss Bingley’s seminary manners are only surface. Jane Austen led us gave us fingernails grating on a chalkboard or blossoming ardor through the simple use of a name.

As I looked at In Plain Sight’s manuscript, I wrestled with trying to understand when the second Bennet daughter was an Elizabeth or when she was a Lizzy. Thus, I had to first look at the semantic loading of the two names.

Elizabeth conjures up the great Queen, Elizabeth I. The name is just this side of regal. An Elizabeth is quietly caring but is also a steel fist inside of a velvet glove. An Elizabeth can carry herself with all of the gravitas that Lady Catherine could have only dreamed of. That lady had to depend upon intimidation of glares and a loud voice as opposed to the aura that called out that a woman worthy of great respect was entering the room.

Lizzy, the true diminutive…little Elizabeth…unlike shortenings of Liz or Beth, can only fit a young lady who loves to romp through the fields. Lizzy perfectly describes the character’s underlying nature. However, Lizzy, is a name that can comfortably be used only by close family, particularly a parent. To me, that sort of explained why Charlotte, as she was a number of years older called her friend Eliza while I would imagine Maria mimicked Kitty and Lydia and used Lizzy.

As In Plain Sight grew, a social aspect of name usage became apparent to me. If parents applied diminutives to their children, what did they call their servants in the patriarchal structure of the household. In other words, when did Annie (Reynolds) the maid become Anne Wilson, the under housekeeper of Hedgebrook House? (This is my sneaky way of suggesting there will be a point where Elizabeth becomes Lizzy—and not because Mr. Bennet calls her that.) I found a way to articulate that in this encounter between Elizabeth and the convict William Smith in Chapter 18.

“Mr. Smith—” Elizabeth began, but he turned from his landscape study and interrupted her.

“Just ‘Smith,’ Miss Bennet…just ‘Smith.’ Most of the gentry would deign only to address me as a child,” he added bitterly, “by only my first name…William.”

Elizabeth’s head snapped back at this. He certainly had not intended his statement as a reproof, but there it was; his anger bubbled just beneath the surface.

She cast her thoughts back over her life of dealing with the lower classes, the ones who toiled so she did not have to. Only upper servants ever earned the privilege of surnames. Sarah, a maid, tended the five Bennet girls, but ’twas Mrs. Hill who most often waited upon Mama. Mr. Hill loyally stood by Papa, his childhood playmate, as Longbourn’s butler. Yet, family lore spoke of the fact that, until his father had passed on, this Mr. Hill was known only as George much as the Longbourn’s current man-of-all-work was called James.

She had never considered this to be anything extraordinary, but rather the normal course of events.

Here we have Elizabeth Bennet seeking to engage a man about whom she knows next to nothing. They are together in the parlor of Longbourn’s dower house. She is the master’s daughter.  She could never be Lizzy in this scenario.

Yet, at other points in the book, the playful young lady appears. Here we see Lizzy Bennet coming down from Oakham Mount’s storm-swept summit in Chapter 10. Again, I saw this as a more fitting use of Lizzy because it described the attitude of the character.

As she moved through the forest, though, Lizzy did as she always had when rubbing shoulders with nature. She gave voice to her joy at being free of Mama’s glowering.

Finally, I would like to note that there are points in the book where our heroine is both Elizabeth and Lizzy. This hybrid is my effort to show an evolution of the character where both halves of her personality are present. See this tidbit from Chapter 41. Here we see others identifying her as Elizabeth while she may still see herself as Lizzy.

“I would wish ye to know that I believe I am goin’ to have to release you from your obligation to our family, Miss…”

“Bennet,” came Lizzy’s reply. “Elizabeth Bennet.”

“Miss Bennet,” Mrs. Tomkins said and then looked over at Mary and Edward. “Mrs. Benton, was not your maiden name Bennet?”

Mary blushed and dipped her head. “Yes, it was, Mrs. Tomkins. Elizabeth is my dear sister.”

Over the years that I have been reading Jane Austen’s works, I am continually amazed at the layers and textures this erstwhile genius applied to her works over two centuries ago. She led the way and still illuminates my path as I wonder when Elizabeth and when Lizzy. The answer? It depends.

Please enjoy the following excerpt which offers a degree of humor in the midst of a dire situation.


This excerpt from In Plain Sight is ©2020 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any reproduction without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited. Published in the United States of America.

Chapter XIV

Longbourn’s harvested fields swept toward the smaller building’s front door. As the two riders approached, they could see that the front door was hanging open. The scent of wood smoke hung in the morning air. A lone horse of impressive proportions was cropping the sedge that had filled the side lawn.

Bennet ceased his good-natured jests and cursed under his breath. This was Longbourn’s Dower House, and it had been breached. He had no way of knowing by whom or by how many. What he did know was that he had left Longbourn unarmed, a practice he earlier had resolved to avoid until the convict gangs had departed further down toward the Lea. In his haste to escape Mrs. Bennet’s exclamations, he had left his pocket pistol safely locked in his worktable, something he had been in the habit of doing for over twenty years, living as he had been in a house filled with curious little hands and eyes. Although the girls were now old enough to be sensible with firearms, he kept his muskets and fowling pieces chained in the gunroom and his handguns in their well-polished cases buried deep beneath his ledger books.

He doubted the good preacher had anything hidden away in his boot-top beside his lower leg.

Longbourn’s Master stifled his normal inclination to seek out the folly in the situation and considered the problem.

While he had never been on a hunt for large game, he had read about the English colonists’ efforts to reduce the boar and bear populations in the New World. Two rules seemed inviolable: never corner your prey and be extremely careful if the quarry is wounded.

In the case before him, Bennet could not answer to the second. However, he certainly could account for the first.

And he began to sing—loudly—seeking to put good Falstaff’s well-lubricated efforts to shame.

Ye true honest Britons who love your own land,

Whose fires were so brave,

So victorious and free,

Who always beat France when they took her in hand,

Come join honest Britons in chorus with me.


Let us sing our own treasures,

Old England’s good chear,

The profits and pleasures of stout British beer;

Your wine-tipling, dram-sipping fellows retreat,

But your beer-drinking Britons can never be beat.[i]


Benton took an astonished look at the older man who could be seen swaying in his saddle as if he had broken his fast with a flagon of a foaming harvest. Then Bennet caught his eye and with a meaningful head nod, motioned with a gloved hand for Benton to join in. Edward demurred for a moment, not out of some form of disapprobation of the old gentleman’s behavior, but rather out of confusion.

Then he smiled as he looked at the Dower House and, encouraged by Bennet’s hand motions, added his tenor to the other man’s baritone. The words came easily as he recollected Oxford’s taverns. Benton had not been inebriated enough recently to throw his preacher’s decorum to the four winds. Yet, as he broke into the chorus, memories tugged at his heartstrings, flickering images that played on the edges of sight, hearkening back to those early days when he still had one foot firmly planted on his father’s estate in the shadows of the New Forest. His smile broadened as he understood that he had broken free from those welcome ties to begin creating new memories with Mary and the rest of the Bennets. This was only the first.

Once the pair had finished regaling the edifice, its Tudor construction’s darkened beams highlighting yellowed plaster, they waited.

Although, not for long.

The door was pulled back and a booted leg led a gentleman’s well-clad form onto the small piazza beneath the front portico. He swept off his slouch black campaign topper and ran his hands through wiry black hair. The intruder was a man of early middle years, and a wary look had reshaped his features. He held his hands away from his sides, palms outwards to show his peaceable intent.

Bennet and Benton urged their horses forward, staying mounted to indicate their right to be on Longbourn’s lands and implicitly demanding an explanation for his violation.

Richard understood the subtext. He was the interloper and, if he was not mistaken, was facing the owner of this house and the larger manor gracing the far side of the sloping acreage tilting toward the Mimram’s watercourse.

Clearing his throat, Fitzwilliam nodded in acknowledgment and said in his normal manner, “Thank you, gentlemen, for your excellent efforts at noisemaking. I have not been a soldier these past five years, but I still find myself reacting violently toward those, despite their antecedents, who catch me unawares. I find I must compliment you on your musical tastes.

“I assume that I am speaking with the proprietor of this estate?”

Mr. Bennet coolly regarded the powerfully-built man before replying, “The land upon which you have trespassed is known hereabouts as Longbourn. You have, it would seem, broken into my Dower House.”

Mr. Bennet reminded him less of his own father, the Earl, and more of his uncle, George Darcy. Hazel eyes regarded him from beneath medium brown hair. An intelligent light illuminated those orbs. Fitzwilliam had seen a similar glint not an hour before gleaming chocolatey rich up at him as he settled Miss Bennet’s convict over Imperator’s withers.

There was not a drop of arrogance or conceit deforming his well-shaped lips. Here was a man, an exemplar of the spine that held England’s country Whig ideology upright. He was of the type who lived for his estate, its people, and the traditions for which he and his family had stood since the Restoration, if not before. The pretensions of the High Tories and their enduring affection for the Stuart succession probably disgusted him. Bennet might tease, but he would never prevaricate. Likewise, he would always act from his fully formed convictions and not mold them to suit those to curry favor.

In short, Mr. Bennet was exactly the person Fitzwilliam needed as an ally if he were to sort out the darkness that shrouded the bucolic Hertfordshire countryside.

Richard knew that he had violated about every commandment the English gentry held dear. He paused to reflect how he would have reacted if he had come across an uninvited guest warming himself in Pemberley’s dower house…or even one of the estate’s ruder tenant cottages.

He closed his eyes and gulped. His charge’s life likely depended on how he got on with this angry gentleman, Miss Bennet’s father if he was not mistaken, over the next few minutes.

He needed to allow the contrition he felt to show in his manner.

As if a mage had waved his wand, Fitzwilliam’s shoulders dropped, and he gripped his hat in both hands, looking every inch the supplicant. He stepped from beneath the overhang and addressed Bennet, “Please allow me to make some amends here, sir. My name is Richard Fitzwilliam of Pemberley in Derbyshire. I also live in Town at Darcy House. I am a guest of your neighbor, Mr. Bingley, who has let Netherfield.

“My presence on your property is not the result of evil intent, I assure you, but rather because of an urgent and unusual situation about which I would seek your advice.”

Having completed half of that which all Britons seemed to undertake for a goodly portion of their lives, Fitzwilliam stopped talking.

Bennet digested the young man’s words and manner. While he had not heard of Pemberley, he was enough of a student of current affairs to know that the name Fitzwilliam rose from beneath the Peak District. He had little doubt that this was a man who never questioned whether he would receive vouchers to Almack’s. However, he acted much more like one of Bennet’s neighbors’ boys, caught in a bit of excusable mischief.

Decision taken, Thomas nodded at Edward and swung his leg over Pompey’s back. Dismounted, Bennet stripped off his gloves and closed on this Mr. Fitzwilliam. Extending his hand, he replied, “You are well met, Mr. Fitzwilliam. I am Thomas Bennet, Master of Longbourn. I do not hold with all the bowing and scraping that smacks of hidebound classism. I prefer an honest handshake like our American cousins.

“This young buck is my middle daughter’s fiancé, the Reverend Edward Benton.”

When Benton also reached out, Fitzwilliam relaxed, which led him to make a mistake for which he would have pinned back the ears of a wet-nosed Ensign. He loosely responded, “I am relieved to learn that at least one of your five daughters is off the marriage…”

Bennet’s eyes snapped, “And, how would you know that Mrs. Bennet and I have been blessed with five girls? I do not recall ever having met you, Mr. Fitzwilliam.”

Richard gulped, recalling his earlier thoughts about Bingley, and immediately thought of Major Hogan when he was sweating a frog officer. Knowing that Bennet had put him on the spot, albeit without intent, he elected that any relationship had to be based upon complete transparency.

“You are most correct, Mr. Bennet. We have never met,” he said with remorse.

“I might have attempted to offer a Banbury Tale about how your domestic life was common knowledge in the neighborhood, and that I had heard it from my friend, Bingley. That would have been untrue…and gossip.

“As someone near and dear to me once said, disguise of every sort is my abhorrence. I would not begin our acquaintance upon a falsehood. There is much I must relate to you that will require a great amount of trust on your part.”

Bennet crossed his arms and gave Richard an I am waiting look.

Fitzwilliam chuckled, “You remind me of my former commander, Major General Wellesley, although now he is styled a Viscount, so I imagine I will have to refrain from calling him Nosey. Every junior officer in the army was terrified when he gave us that look.

“Oh, sorry, Mr. Bennet, I tend to get chatty when I am nervous. And, I am a bit shaky thinking about how you will react to what I say next.”

The words came out in a rush, “I encountered your daughter, Miss Elizabeth, not an hour ago on the road that runs along the river. I had been riding out from Netherfield and went further afield than I imagined. I came upon her as she was going along toward that pretty little market town yonder.

“T’was from her that I learned that you are a man who likely knows more about ribbons and lace than any other in the region.”

Bennet’s arms dropped to his side and a snort bubbled between his lips as he fired back, “You, young man, have no idea.”

Then he became very quiet and measured his words like a bare-knuckle bruiser snapping his opponent’s head backward with jab after jab after jab.

“However, you cannot divert my curiosity and concern. Where is my Lizzy right now? Did you leave her to find her way home alone? Did you abandon her to this weather because you, Mr. Fitzwilliam of Pemberley in Derbyshire, wanted to avoid the appearance of compromise, something for which I would justifiably demand that you and she keep an appointment with young Benton here? Just who do you think you are?” he snapped. Richard was knocked back on his heels by a father’s fury. Then the insane humor of the farce captured his soldier’s sensibilities. He had been trying to protect Miss Elizabeth’s reputation, but not from being alone with him. Why, they were chaperoned, if only by a comatose escapee and a warhorse.

He started to laugh. This did not amuse Bennet, not one jot. He growled.

Fitzwilliam held up his hands in surrender, and gasped, “Really…Mr…Bennet. There was…nothing…improper…in my meeting…with your daughter.

“Oh, come inside and I will explain. If it is not to your satisfaction, I will be happy to meet Mr. Benton out by the woodyard for a conference where I will not raise one hand in my defense.”

Then he dissolved into more laughter when the absurdity of inviting a glowering Thomas Bennet into his own house impressed itself upon his slightly warped sensibilities.

The day which had begun in boredom punctuated by irritation and then near-tragedy had just become considerably more diverting.


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My Fascination With the Utility of Secondary Characters

Many of you have noted my movement from the term JAFF (Jane Austen Fan Fiction) to Austenesque fiction. Much of that evolution rose from my search for my authentic voice as an author. I frequently felt that I was engaged in some sort of tribute band mentality which limited my creative efforts as a writer. Hence my launching of the term #Austenesque fiction around two years ago. I felt that I—and other authors—could use elements of Jane Austen’s books in their efforts without being constrained by the fear of opprobrium at their deviations from Canon.

More recently, especially as I was involved in the writing of my next book, In Plain Sight, I have come to understand that I have been exercising my creative juices in pursuit of historical fiction. While I have previously suggested that Austen may be used for historical research, I did put strict limits upon employing her books as resources that explore the full terrain of Regency history. She offers us a narrow view of the bucolic life of the middle gentry. There is so much more to the story of those times that Jane Austen does not relate, mostly, I am convinced because her readers were not particularly interested in contemplating the broader social questions of the times. They left it to William Wilberforce to decry slavery, Charles Fox and Henry Hunt to assail the hidebound suffrage system, and Mary Wollstonecraft to take the part of women.

Over my history as a writer of #Austenesque fiction, I have been fascinated with less distinguished characters in the Austen panoply: lesser characters, soldiers, and servants—folks who moved through the Canonical stories more as props than as plot catalysts. As a result, many of my stories, while grounded in the interaction of the lead characters with the plot, feature much more meaty roles for the three younger Bennet sisters, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and servants like Mrs. Hill and the Longbourn cook. I fully believe that strong literature builds upon foundation stones made up of secondary characters who reflect not only specific traits but also the society from which they grew. Consider what is arguably the greatest Twentieth Century novel, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. While Clarissa Dalloway is the eponymous reason for the book, Woolf’s sketch of a single day in a post-World War I woman’s life depends upon two other major characters and over a dozen minor ones.

Ignoring minor character development (I have frequently joked that servants appear in Austen only to lug tea trays, fetch smelling salts, and open doors. Well, not quite…I commend the two footmen in Emma’s home for a delicious performance in the 2020 film.) strikes me as unilateral disarmament on an author’s part.

In Austenesque fiction, I consider the constellation of characters through which the protagonists and antagonists move to offer significant texture and context that help the leads become understandable to the audience. Consider this brief excerpt from an early chapter in Volume 1 of the Bennet Wardrobe, The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey. These are the opening lines of Chapter 11, the day after Elizabeth and Jane’s double wedding.

Mary quickly exited the library and grabbed her heaviest wrap.  Shrugging it on, she turned toward the kitchen.  She surprised Mrs. Hill and Cook who were settled over a cup of their morning coffee, a beverage for which Mary had little desire.  Chocolate was her pleasure, rich, dark, and frothy, but a little less sweet than preferred by her mother, Jane, and Kitty. Lizzy was the other coffee drinker besides Papa. 

Both older women regarded Mary with interest, as she was rarely the first Bennet daughter to appear for breakfast, let alone beat the serving dishes to the sideboard in the dining room.

Mrs. Hill greeted her cheerfully, “Why, Miss Mary, good morning to you.  If we had not seen her off yesterday, I could have sworn it was your older sister Miss Eliz…Mrs. Darcy coming to test our morning rolls before she took her walk.”

Of all those living at Longbourn, Mrs. Hill had been the one who had paid attention to first the girl and then the young woman, Mary.  Mama cared little for her once it became clear that she would never come close to Jane’s stunning beauty or even Lizzy’s more exotic looks.

While we do not see any of Mary’s lines in this excerpt, her interaction with Mrs. Hill and Cook reveals much about the third daughter’s inner woman. We are also treated to a new appreciation of Mrs. Hill’s personality. Longbourn’s Housekeeper has long been painted as the sorely tested and sometimes abused foil of Mrs. Bennet’s famous nerves. Now she is humanized and becomes a subtle explanation for why Miss Mary Bennet developed into a better person than she might have without the intervention of Alma Hill.

I carried my interest in the outlook of secondary characters forward by elevating them to the forefront while the main characters rested offstage. My paired novellas—Of Fortune’s Reversal and The Maid and The Footman—carried this forward when read back-to-back in Lessers and Betters. The maid, Annie Reynolds, and the footman, Sergeant Henry Wilson, stood as the bedrock upon which the Regency’s class system rested. Yet, they became important partners in General Sir Richard Fitzwilliam’s efforts to protect the realm for Continental enemies.

I have now expanded and more fully employed those who would otherwise be unseen in my next novel, In Plain Sight, which will be published by Meryton Press during April/May. In this work, I strip away the classist pretensions of ODC to give them the freedom to discover each other without the limitations imposed by incipient pride or blinding prejudice.

In lieu of offering up an excerpt from In Plain Sight, please enjoy these first words from my next book…the eighth and final volume of the Bennet Wardrobe Series…The Grail: The Saving of Elizabeth Darcy. Please enjoy.  Look forward to your comments.


This excerpt of a Work-In-Progress is (c) 2020 by Donald P. Jacobson. Reproduction in any form is prohibited without the expressed written consent of the author. Published in the United States of America.


Pemberley House, Derbyshire, April 30, 1833

Elizabeth watched Mary walk toward the Wardrobe. Her sister, younger by seven-and-ten-years, never faltered and never looked back. To Lizzy’s eye, this Mary Benton, unmarked as of yet by Peterloo, gave a foretaste of the granite-jawed campaigner who even now was in London with her husband petitioning Parliament to regulate the hours children could work in the mills springing up across the country. Always a woman who championed the causes of the least fortunate, Mary had earned the richly deserved sobriquet of Britain’s Social Conscience.[i]

Mrs. Darcy drew the chamber’s richly stained oak door closed to afford the younger Mrs. Benton a modicum of privacy. Then Elizabeth laid both hands flat on the upper panels and rested her forehead on the first mullion in-between and waited for the sound which she knew would surely come.

The faint <pop> as a rush of air filled the woman-shaped void was all that Pemberley’s Mistress heard from the room beyond the closed door.

Standing straight, the great lady calmed herself, erasing the grief brought about by her sister’s departure. She was comforted by the knowledge that, once their agitation and lobbying could bear no more fruit, the Mary from this here/now would be coming North to gather Rory and Bridget—and the Wardrobe. Then she and Edward would take all and sundry back to the Kympton Vicarage.

Mama…and Lydia, too…would have said that that piece of fey furniture had a rather nasty sense of humor. Here it gives me a reminder of my beloved Mary when she was but a newlywed matron, but then sends her back to her where/when three years before she is nearly murdered by that slimy toad whose name I shall never think. The only joy which I have is that I know that Mary rose from Manchester’s dusty field to stand astride society. In that she is little different from Lydia. I imagine Miss Austen, the dour biographer of our family, would have professed surprise that both ladies have become forces in these late years of King William’s reign, each in her own unique way.

Pfagh: I prefer to ignore the musings of that thin-lipped spinster who never condescended to meet those about whom she wrote with such fervor, although I must admit she did have my Fitzwilliam down to a fault.

Elizabeth’s reverie was interrupted by the dinner gong. She spun on her heel and hurried along the richly woven runner leading to the top of the great staircase. Arriving at its top, she paused to regulate her breathing before proceeding downstairs. As she descended, she looked to her right and caught her reflection in the great mirrors cunningly placed to trick the eye into believing the well was twice its already gargantuan size. The glass afforded her a view of a woman of middle years, her rich brown hair yet lustrous and shot with a modicum of wise old hairs, still trim. Unlike so many ladies of her class and age, Elizabeth Darcy boasted a figure, if not girlish, still trim, its middle only slightly thickened and hips broadened in modest testimony to her having birthed her two darlings. Her face bore a few extra laugh lines, more prevalent today than even a few years ago. She refused to refer to them as wrinkles, although a woman of two-and-forty could justifiably claim such marks as honors awarded for a life well-lived.

All-in-all, Mrs. Darcy has managed to evade many of the pitfalls of having been married for more than one-and-twenty years to a man overly fond of lemon shortbreads. However, he has always been more than patient with my predilection, as Mrs. Johnson would have put it all those years ago, to scamper about the countryside. Pemberley’s paths and roads kept my girth under regulation. Thankfully none of my neighborhood friends and acquaintances would ever raise an eyebrow at hems and petticoats six inches deep…

Her indoor slippers touched down on the broad marble checkerboard that stretched from the manor’s front door all the way back into first floor’s shadowy reaches. After nodding at the footman patrolling the foyer against any unexpected arrivals, Elizabeth entered the parlor to cross to the dining chamber’s double doors. The footmen flanking the dining rooms double doors were matched to perfection; their simultaneous movements synchronized with her approach so precisely that she did not have to hesitate. They pulled the doors back to reveal a scene which never ceased to delight: her family at table, tonight one fewer from her brood but augmented by the Benton twins.

[i] Even Queen Victoria saw her as such. See The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, Ch. XLVIII.

Posted in Austen Characters, Don Jacobson, Excerpt, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Writing | 1 Comment

Taking 3 weeks Off!

Another quick update…

The Manuscript for “In Plain Sight” is finished and in editing!

I love using bold type…especially for big news.

IPS took five good months of writing (essentially being started after the blog tour for The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion finished). Now, the little one (about 120,000 words) is off with the editors. Once Nicole and Ellen finish their touchups on my rough and Janet B. Taylor creates what is sure to be a stunning cover, In Plain Sight will wend its way through the pre-pub production process before landing in a Kindle or brick-and-mortar store near you.

There is one little tidbit left to write…Acknowledgments. That caveat noted I would like to take one moment to offer a tip ‘o the hat to all of my followers at I posted the book there over the course of about two months. The tale received over 330 reviews and comments…all of them gracious.

What is critical is how helpful many of those comments were. I have never been surrounded by such a wonderful community of #Austenesque fans. Their help cannot be acknowledged enough.

See my February blogpost from Austen Authors:

Our friend Elaine Owen suggested that I consider dipping my toe in the fanfiction board waters. She said that doing so helps readers stay involved with your writing between publications.

What she did not say was just how useful and wonderful the reviews can be.

I have been releasing chapters of my latest WIP In Plain Sight since mid-November. To date, I will have posted about 40 chapters for your reading pleasure. The full book will be published by Meryton Press in the Third Quarter.

The reception for the book has been outstanding. Feedback is positive. Some suggestions are even better. Bouquets tossed my way are gratefully accepted.

From a guest (Confrontation in the St. Margaret’s Vicarage)

I love this level-headed Mary, so sure of herself. In canon she is usually portrayed as a wallflower who has nothing to contribute to any sensible conversation. Here, she holds her own among the men.

I love this Darcy, still capable of self-sacrifice to protect those he loves, but a lot more willing to make room in his way of thinking for the inputs of a real partner. THIS is a man without fault: strong AND flexible, instead of unbending. Intelligent enough to know his own blind spots. Principled, but not uncompromising. No, we cannot laugh at him.

I love this Lizzy, ready to shoulder the burdens and embrace the joys of a future of her own making. She retained her good humor and let go of her stubbornness. She still misjudges, but now gives fair opportunity to those she judges to present their views. She listens and she adapts. THIS is a woman who knows herself.

Early on, a reviewer caught some mistakes I made in the names of Napoleonic-era generals. I had these greats commanding the wrong divisions. Others pointed out some factual inconsistencies.

At this point, I will admit that in the universe within which I write my Pride and Prejudice variations, the sentence of internal transportation exists. I needed to keep my Mr. Smith on Great Britain’s soil so he could meet Elizabeth. That act of creation (although in post-Revolutionary America…and notably the post-Civil War South…sentences to hard labor were the norm) allowed me to set my characters into the mold which I desired.

Other reviewer comments inspired examination of similar, but different notions from the comment. A reviewer noted that the River Ver flows through St. Albans. That was a nice note, however, my Meryton is set on the Mimram River. The river in St. Albans had nothing to do with the story. The reviewer was looking at a phrase in Chapter Four which had the Bennet Coach crossing a bridge above the Mimram-Thames Canal that was under construction near Longbourn. Something niggled in my mind.

I looked at the map…for I had not considered where the Mimram emptied before that moment. I had assumed that, since Meryton was only 24 miles from London, the stream flowed into the Thames. WRONG! The Mimram joins the Lea in Hertford. The Lea is a tributary of the Thames.

That simple pointer forced me to change the name of the Canal Company. It also demanded that Edward and Mary (helping Smith and Lizzy flee Meryton) were “going to Hertford” by the long way…rather than “Ware.”

Often reviewers key on my writing. The following caused a full paragraph of florid writing to vanish. Reader eyes are frequently the best eyes of all.

402Michelle (after the disaster at the ball)

Exciting, if not deplorably gut-wrenching chapter. Of course, following the previous chapter how could it be otherwise.

A bit over the top pedantic in the paragraph regarding Mr. Bennet entering the library and sitting down with Elizabeth. I had to read that awkward two paragraphs a few times…to get it. It could’ve stopped with the first part and cut to the chase. Yes, it was agonizing for Elizabeth to having to wait for the comfort of her father. But that chapter pulled me away from the story. I was waiting for the ax to fall and hoping for the comfort too. The part starting with ‘The closer it came…’ could have been entirely left out. The rest of the chapter fulfilled the purpose of itself; Papa’s support, Mr. Bennet’s plan for their safety.

Of course, this is a love story. Although the couple (Smith and Elizabeth) explore their feelings throughout Book Two, it is not until they are hidden in plain sight as a maid and a farmworker at Hedgebrook House that they declare themselves.

From Nessy22 (Declarations of Love at Hedgebrook)

Wow, this euphoria has swapped over to me! Wonderfully told with much energy, that is felt, while reading. This was an amazingly romantic, poetic, and liberating scene! I’m quite overwhelmed… phew I also am happy, they found to each other again (yes, Lizzy needs her time there, as known :). But now, they are free!

However, sometimes a reviewer finds a huge problem and shakes you by the lapels screaming (without knowledge…until this very moment) What were you thinking? Truth here: I had intended Caroline Bingley to be the catalyst for the plot crux that forced Smith and Lizzy (as well as Mary and Edward) to take flight. Likewise, Caroline’s actions forced the rest of the Bennet family (under Bingley’s protection as Mr. Bennet stayed at Longbourn) to run to Gracechurch Street.

My plan had Miss Bingley then dropping out of the book, only to be referred to as having married our villain, Sir Thaddeus Soames. Soames was to have been the only one “to get his.” Caroline would have “gotten hers” through being chained to this awful man.

At least one (one of my favorite commentators) was having none of that (although unknowingly).

From J.W. Garrett (The catastrophe at the Netherfield Ball)

How can I sleep after reading this? Huh? I mean… I have NEVER disliked anyone as I do Caroline Bingley at this moment. Don’t you DARE let her get off easy… with just a slap on the wrist. I want a damage report. I want her to suffer. I want blood drawn. GRRR! I am so upset I can’t breathe.

And Collins… will he have ANY idea what he has done? Will he even care? Ahh! I want to string him up by his… um… well perhaps I need to go to bed. What will Bennet do to Collins for setting this in motion… anything? Will Bennet get in trouble for having Smith on his property? He is the magistrate. SIR Thaddeus has a bit more clout than he did before. He now outranks Bennet and can cause trouble for him. Dang! This hurt.

Although, I do have to admit… it was like reading poetry. That was beautifully written even if I hated seeing it happen to Elizabeth. I can’t see a way out of this. Aaahhh! I want to yell or scream or something! Soames is like a dog with a bone. Caroline has set something in motion that will not be satisfied until he sees that servant at the dower house with his own eyes. He won’t let it go. I’m dying here.

And that, dear reader, added two chapters to the book. I could not let Caroline off by marrying her to a slime ball. She had to wed the slug and then share his fate after Elizabeth (aided by Lady Eleanor Fitzwilliam, the Countess of Matlock) skins her and hangs her hide on the barndoor.

Enjoy this excerpt from Meryton Press’ upcoming publication!


Chapter XXVIII

The Harvest Ball unwound as expected. The first two sets passed without any untoward incident. Elizabeth had shaken her sense of foreboding as the Ball progressed. She was pleased to see her father taking Lydia and Kitty in hand, squelching their high spirits by regularly sniffing their glasses of punch and sending withering glares at any scarlet tunic that supposed to take advantage of impressionable young ladies. Even her mother had moderated her behavior and had settled into a low-tone bout of chin-wagging gossip with Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas as they watched the younger crowd circulate through the steps.

William Collins, suitably cowed by a baronet’s presence, had managed to avoid injuring anyone through his clumsiness. He had done the pretty by requesting a set from many of the neighborhood ladies, although at this early stage he had yet to do more than dance with Miss Lucas while Miss Catherine Bennet had assented to accompany him in the second.

Collins’ supper was, sadly in his estimation of his prospects as a suitor, open. He could entice no single female to stand up, and, thus, sit down with him. Hunsford’s vicar, before filling his plate and settling in with the Bennet party, stood on the sidelines to observe the dance. He hummed an off-key, asynchronous, accompaniment to the small orchestra’s efforts. From time-to-time, he sipped the brackish thin lemonade served to cool the revelers after their exertions. Collins had been told that the watery liquid was a faithful replication of the brew served by Almack’s Patronesses. He admired Miss Bingley’s attention to the smallest detail. What impressed him even more was that she followed the example of the arbiters of all that was correct in the ton.

About twenty minutes earlier, one of the red-coated officer guests had offered to “sweeten” the brew with a bit of the hair of the dog. Collins, not wishing to seem above the company, readily agreed. A sizeable dollop was added to his cup. Soon a warm fuzziness flooded the cleric’s sinuses, numbing the tip of his nose, and reddening his ears and cheeks.

William Collins was enjoying himself.

As the set continued, he wandered back to where the refreshments had been laid out. As he approached the table, he heard a lady’s voice berating someone.

“How could you have been so clumsy? Those coupes were imported French crystal and are…or should I say, were… part of a matched set my mother imported before the war!

“Yet you, fumble-fingers, crush one while polishing it? I will see its cost deducted from your wages, and I promise you, it will be dear!”

Collins looked closely as the audience parted to see a tall, red-headed lady in a seafoam-green gown snarling at a cowering footman. After she had dismissed the quivering soul to some darkened dungeon near the kitchens, Mr. Collins approached.

In his most unctuous voice, for he recognized her as his hostess, Miss Bingley, “Allow me to commend you, Madam, for your discernment and fine taste. I may be a humble clergyman, but I would account this evening’s festivities as being near perfect. Why, my patroness, Lady Catherine DeBourgh of Rosings Park, would see little that needed any remediation.

“I would go so far as to say that she would offer only one or two constructive suggestions to assist you in your future efforts.

“In truth, Miss Bingley, whatever Lady Catherine chose to point out would only be apprehended by society’s highest. The fine folk here tonight, their senses dulled by living outside of the first circles, will never understand the nuances a competent hostess will adjust to complete the experience.”

Caroline’s eyes narrowed at the mixed compliments offered by the sweaty, silly man by her side. She was too polite, and too near the doors to the dining area, to allow her earlier ire at the footman’s crime to overtake her best manners. Her response was neutral.

“You are Bennet’s cousin…the clergyman Mr. Collins…are you not?” she asked.

“Indeed, Miss Bingley, I am he. I have the privilege of being the heir to Longbourn as Mrs. Bennet was thoroughly unsuccessful in birthing any sons,” Collins replied.

“I see,” Caroline dryly said, casting her eyes about the room for some excuse to cut short this brief but already tiresome conversation.

Collins forged ahead, “I do hope that you will forgive my presumption in approaching you. I could not help but overhear you correcting that servant who had damaged an heirloom. Lady Catherine is known for her desire to instruct the lower classes in proper deportment, especially when it comes to handling her property. Although you do not know my patroness, I can assure you that you are certainly following in her footsteps.

“And, I am positive…”

Caroline let Collins’ drone recede into the background as she caught sight of Richard Fitzwilliam with Eliza Bennet moving across the parquet floor. His attention to that country chit curdled her insides. Although her sights had shifted in recent days, she refused to concede any suitor to another woman. Miss Bingley’s manner became increasingly brittle, and she ground her teeth behind thinned lips. Collins’ prattle softly buffeted against her subconscious…and continued to do so until he said something which immediately caught her attention.

“…and I am frustrated that Mr. Bennet refuses to heed my counsel. After all, I am to be Longbourn’s master! One would think that he would be more concerned about the behavior of one of his older daughters. I can understand if he chooses to ignore the hoydenish attitudes of the infants…”

Caroline interrupted, “Behavior of one of his older daughters? Of what and who are you speaking, Mr. Collins?”

Collins preened. While the man condemned gossip as uncharitable and skirting the limits of proper Christian manners, he loved being able to inform the world at large about the weaknesses of others.

His voice strengthened as if he were in his Hunsford pulpit, “Why thank you for your interest, Miss Bingley, in knowing which of your neighbors, in this case, your nearest, are acting in ways that are contrary to good social order. As Lady Catherine has said time and again…”

Caroline huffed, “Thank you, Mr. Collins, however, please stick to the facts of the tale about…”

Collins paused, collected himself, and replied, “You are correct. Perhaps you might be able to provide this young lady the sort of guidance her father clearly refuses to give. I am speaking of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

“I had originally planned to bring her back to Kent as my wife—Lady Catherine insisted that I extend an olive branch of peace to my cousins and marry one of them to heal the rift in our family brought on by the Longbourn entail,” again he paused at Caroline’s growl, “but she proved herself thoroughly unsuitable. I could not countenance a fallen woman as my helpmeet.

“I came upon her at the Longbourn Dower House consorting with a servant!

“She told me all that she had meant to do was chastise him, but her laying of hands upon the man beggared the truth!

“T’was Eve and the serpent all over again!”

Urged on by Caroline’s continued prodding, the story as perceived by William Collins, tumbled out. At some point, she ceased looking at his greasy countenance and again focused upon the dancers.

There was something more to Collins’ dissertation, though; something which gleamed through like a diamond buried in a coal pile. Miss Bingley had seen the posters outside of Meryton’s shops. The description, while rudimentary, seemed remarkably similar to that which she drew from the unsuspecting bumbling fool of a vicar.

She scrutinized Lizzy dancing and laughing with Fitzwilliam. At some point, the germ of an idea that had been held closely since the day of the invitation exploded into malevolent flower. Caroline would ruin her and win her baronet at the same time.

As her resolve hardened, Caroline noticed that Collins had actually wound down. She thanked the man for his care and concern about propriety within his family. Then Miss Bingley excused herself by saying that she needed to attend to the upcoming meal.

She made her way through the crowd searching out her next target: Sir Thaddeus.

Caroline spotted him in a small group just outside the card room. The man was holding court with a few of the minor landowners who hung on his every word. The more senior men like Mr. Bennet and Mr. Goulding were nowhere to be found. The younger masters were still on the dancefloor, although the dinner break was fast approaching.

Bestowing her best smile upon every one of the gentlemen, she reserved its brilliant center for only one man. He responded as all men had done ever since she had discovered her own tigress’ power: his chest puffed out a little fuller, his shoulders squared, and his chin jutted ever-so-much more.

Miss Bingley crossed straight through the group until she stood directly in front of Soames. Then she shifted her gaze to John Lucas who was standing on the baronet’s right. She held that stare until the young man mumbled something about needing to escort his sister into dinner, nervously bowed, and left the group. Caroline floated into the notch ripped in the group’s circumference and waited for Sir Thaddeus to shift so that he was facing her head-on.

After receiving the gentleman’s cordial greetings, Caroline went to work. She widened her emerald orbs and bored deeply into Soames’ eyes. She took a moment to allow him to become mesmerized.

Then in a slightly infantilized, poor-little-me, my-life-is-now-complete voice that never failed to melt even the hardest of men, she began her campaign, “I cannot tell you how happy I was to be led out by you in tonight’s first set. I will own to being surprised that you would find the time for these sorts of social events given the demands on your time, especially now since your elevation to baronet.”

At this, she stopped and waited for Sir Thaddeus to fill in the conversational gap with the appropriate protestations about how he could not have missed such a stellar event and so on. Once the man had accomplished that small feat, Caroline continued.

“I have been, I fear, rather nervous. I nearly asked my brother, Mr. Bingley, you know, to close up Netherfield and return to Town. The entire neighborhood has been in an uproar since that convict escaped into the forest.”

Soames’ face darkened that this fine lady was so frightened over something that could not, should not, be. Wadkins had assured him that all was in hand, and the body would not be discovered until Spring if ever. While Soames was displeased at his man’s excesses, what was one convict more or less?

Yet, his heart was sorely taxed to see the quiver in Miss Bingley’s lip and the hint of diamonds upon her lashes. He ached to ease her worries.

The baronet said fervently, “I promise you, dear lady, I have teams of men scouring the entire area. If that convict is still in the vicinity, we will find him. However, he would be a fool to stay around here. Based upon that thought, I have been making inquiries as far south as Portsmouth and off to Liverpool in the west. He is either on one of our frigates heading to the Blockade or on a merchant bringing goods to Cousin Jonathan.”

“Everybody, Sir Thaddeus, is talking about it,” Caroline pushed, “Rumors are rife. Some have seen him at the coaching inn waiting for a seat to the north. Others claim he is hiding out amongst the millworkers down by the river.

“I even spoke with someone who told me,” at this, she raised her voice a notch to include not just the gentlemen who had joined Sir Thaddeus, but also women who were advancing to collect their husbands, “that a man matching the description—tall, dark-haired, a claret-colored birthmark on his left forearm—on the poster was seen consorting with Miss Elizabeth Bennet at the Longbourn Dower House not a fortnight ago!

“Now, I never would have imagined it of a gentlewoman from such a distinguished family. My source says that Miss Eliza claimed t’was only one of Longbourn’s servants.

“However, I have been to that estate several times and have never seen a man of that appearance. Maybe he truly was one of the workingmen on the estate. Maybe he was not someone convicted of Heaven only knows what. What seems obvious is that he was not of her class. If this is the case, how can the gentry shun those of us who have improved ourselves from our family backgrounds in trade when their own daughters do not distinguish between lessers and betters?”

By now, all conversation had ceased in that corner of the ballroom.

Caroline’s first-ever gambit where she implicitly admitted the roots of her family’s fortune struck an emotional chord with Sir Thaddeus. He was, himself, only a half-year removed from the stench of trade. When she saw his face go pale and then become suffused in the crimson rising from beneath his neckcloth, Caroline knew that her bolt had struck home.

Everything Thaddeus had fought for from his days as a child in Liverpool’s gutters was in danger simply because Wadkins had more muscle than brains. That thug could never control his instincts when it came to his lessers. Yet, such a talent was what made him so useful to Soames. The newly minted aristocrat cared little about the chattel he had purchased, only in what they could deliver to his coffers. How far he had come from a man who sold blackamoors for their labor before the Year Nine to one who kept strings of those His Majesty classified as but one step above slaves. Nobody would care if he ended his year with one less in his employ. The man was a convict, utterly beneath anyone’s notice, including his mother’s, whore that she probably was.

This man, this Smith, was lucky not to have been hung outright, although Britain’s punishments had been brought into the 19th Century, especially after the unfortunate events in France during the Terror. Then those who had been kept down rose up and struck at their masters. Soames could understand that hatred. He, himself, had felt it when a rich man’s carriage had splashed him with street grime…or footmen had pushed him into the gutter when a wealthy lady moved along the walk before entering a sweet shop the insides of which the child Soames could only hope to imagine.

Everything was imperiled. He could never hope to win an accomplished woman like Miss Bingley with this sword hanging over his head.

On top of his visceral fear of being tossed back into the dung heap of trade, he knew that he had to see this man at the Dower House if only to confirm that he was just a poor sod working out his days chopping weeds for Bennet.

Soames could not stop himself, though, from plunging ahead without protecting his heart. He was drawn to Miss Bingley, pulled by her beauty and magnetic personality that swirled him in a whirlpool centered upon those unforgettable green eyes.

Impulsively, he reached out for her hand and bowed over it saying, “I can never imagine you, dear lady, as ever being anything less than the nonpareil that you are. You and your family have proven that Englishmen, when given the opportunity, can lift themselves from coarse backgrounds into the highest levels of society. Fear not that any but the most narrow-minded will punish you because your ancestors earned their keep not by exploiting tenants but rather through the dint of their own wits.

“As for your desire to amend a dangerous situation despite the elevated connections of those who may be abetting the malefactor, I can only commend you.”

His delicate speech, belying his rough exterior, caused Caroline to flush that cherry tone which was so becoming on ginger-haired ladies. She snapped open her fan and hide her crimson cheeks behind its fluttering silk. She coyly turned away. She sensed Soames standing just over her left shoulder.

Together, they watched the damage Caroline’s declarations had wrought.

What had begun as a low murmur spread quickly from the epicenter made up by the couple. Plumed turbans bobbed throughout the ballroom in a queer ballet dipping first together and then spinning away to cross with other gaudy ornaments. Rumor and innuendo swept across the room like a brush fire fleeing before an autumn wind. Closer, ever closer, it came to the small grouping of Bennet women celebrating their sister and daughter’s wedding day. Caroline watched in macabre fascination as the object of her envy laughed unaware of the approaching disaster.

Then, like a gigantic comber slamming into the rocks of Enys Dodnan, the flood hit the Bennet party, parting around it in a gigantic splash before subsiding back into the roiled crowd.[i] The ladies could not have appeared more shocked if they had been drenched with icy seawater. Eyes were widened. What did she say was silently mouthed and bewildered looks were cast around the hall.

Eventually, though, as if she had willed it, Elizabeth Bennet’s dark eyes reached out across the great hall to catch upon the satisfied and triumphant glare sent her way by Miss Bingley’s emerald ones. Longbourn’s daughter paled, and she quickly looked away. Caroline could apprehend the moment the young lady began to weep as her shoulders began to spasmodically hike up and down. Then the other five women quickly closed ranks and obscured her.

Caroline, savoring her victory and the annihilation of a rival, even though she had set her own sights elsewhere, elegantly turned to speak to Sir Thaddeus only to discover him gone.

[i] Remarkable formations at Land’s End, Cornwall.

Posted in Don Jacobson, Excerpt, Jane Austen, Uncategorized, Writing | Leave a comment

Sometimes a 5-Star Review

Honesty check: every author loves to get reviews…and the more stars the better. That said, there are some 5-Star reviews that lift you higher than any others.

Just the other day, the wonderful Rita Deodato of “From Pemberley to Milton” posted her 5-Star review of “The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey.

From beginning to end, Rita offered her praise for the work. What moved was that the book occupied an as yet unexplored niche in #Austenesque writing. Please check it out!

The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey by Don Jacobson

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Year-End Recognitions for “Bennet Wardrobe” Stories

Just a quickie here as I am still fighting a God-Awful cold.

I am deep into my review of the #Audible files for the 7th Book in the Bennet Wardrobe series…The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion.

Sophia Rose just named the Audible performance of The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament as one of her Top 10 Audio Books of 2019! Look at the list…these are not just #Austenesque performances. They cover a huge range. The Avenger is in some pretty exclusive company.

I am over the moon! And, credit where credit is due…Amanda Berry my performer is superb and a treasure!

Please check out this 6th Book in the Bennet Wardrobe series (Amanda has been the voice of the Wardrobe from The Keeper forward).

And, Rita, the web-mistress at the wonderful site From Pemberley to Milton named the first book in the Series, The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, one of her best reads of 2019! Truth be told…she also listened to Amanda’s performance.

From Pemberley to Milton’s 2019 Favourite Books

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New Post up at Austen Authors

Just a quick note…my latest post at Austen Authors went live this AM. In this blogspot, I discuss how strenuous exercise helps me with my writing.

Please visit.  Look forward to your thoughts.

Spin and Problem Solving

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