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 mybook.to/inplainsightPandPvar
August 2020: The Longbourn Quarantine mybook.to/longbournquarantine
There are also two substantial fragments that were unpublished at the time of original release.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 mybook.to/LessersandBetters
May: The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey (Wardrobe Volume 1) mybook.to/MPKeeperwardrobe
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.”