“But don’t you want to know what happens next?”
That’s the question I often ask when I meet someone who tells me how much they love Jane Austen’s books, especially Pride and Prejudice. Their answer is usually the same as my own: yes, yes, YES! We’ve fallen in love with the characters, and we’re not ready to let go. Jane Austen gave us endings that imply they live happily ever after, but we want to see for ourselves. We want the ‘ever after’ part as well.
Desperately needing to know what happened next (to Elizabeth, Darcy, Georgiana, and all the others) was really the reason I began writing. Since I didn’t know Jane Austen fan fiction existed at the time, I thought it was up to me to discover the rest of the story for myself. So one day I sat down at my computer and started writing my idea of what a sequel to Pride and Prejudice should be. I did it just for me; I had no idea of publishing at the time. It was a journey of discovery and a labor of love.
Cutting to the chase, now, I hope you enjoy reading what I began that day. Here’s chapter 1 of The Darcys of Pemberley:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that even the most ignoble person on the face of the earth appears more praiseworthy after death. Thus, as the news of Mr. Collins’s odd and untimely passing spread far and wide, the reputed quality of his character improved accordingly. The significant defects of his disposition, so recently impossible to overlook, were all but forgot, and the general consensus developed that he had been a fine clergyman, and a kind and generous human being.
As his relations, the Bennets of Longbourn were amongst the first to hear of the sad event. Although they had not been especially close to their cousin, his death could not help but make some impression on them. Mr. Bennet felt the loss most acutely. Having come to regard Mr. Collins’s correspondence as a priceless source of amusement, he would not have given up the association on any grounds less consequential than those supplied by the present impediment. Mrs. Bennet, though not ordinarily quick-witted, on this occasion immediately perceived how insupportable it would be to keep the burden of this tragedy to herself. Hence, she made haste to publish the tale abroad, beginning in Meryton with her sister, Mrs. Phillips, who was always anxious for the latest news.
“Sister, Sister, have you heard?” Mrs. Bennet paused to enjoy Mrs. Phillips’s admission that she was yet in ignorance of whatever it was to which her sister was privy. “You will never guess what has happened – I can scarce believe it myself – so I will keep you in suspense no longer. Mr. Collins has met a premature end!”
“No! Are you certain? How did it happen? Tell me everything,” begged Mrs. Phillips.
“It is true, indeed, for I have just had it from Lady Lucas who got the story straight from Charlotte. I will tell you all, but you must prepare yourself. It is quite a shocking and distasteful business.” Mrs. Phillips leaned a little closer as Mrs. Bennet continued in a hushed tone. “It seems that Mr. Collins was having his dinner when he realized that he was in danger of being late for an appointment with his esteemed patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She is a very grand lady, you know, and Mr. Collins never dared to keep her waiting. Well then, in his hurry to finish his meal, he apparently swallowed wrong and choked on a mouthful of mutton.”
“Oh yes, Sister. Can you imagine? It must have been an awful sight to behold. Anyway, no one could do a thing for him, and within minutes Mr. Collins expired right there on the dining room floor!”
“How perfectly ghastly! I wonder if he suffered much,” said Mrs. Phillips with a mixture of pity and excited curiosity. “It sounds to me to be a very dreadful way to go.”
“Yes, I quite agree. In fact, I shudder every time I think of it.”
The sisters took a moment to do just that.
“He was such a fine, sensible young man, and so particularly attached to our family,” mourned Mrs. Bennet. “Despite our small differences, I really was quite fond of him, as you will doubtless remember.”
“I must say that I always liked him myself.”
“Indeed, it is a tragedy, especially when I consider that it might have all turned out so differently had he married one of my girls instead. Mary, I think, could have been persuaded, and I am sure she would have taken much better care of poor Mr. Collins,” Mrs. Bennet concluded sorrowfully.
Another related topic followed exceedingly quick upon the heels of these heartfelt lamentations. As was common knowledge, Mr. Collins, until his demise, stood to inherit the Longbourn estate upon the death of Mr. Bennet, according to the terms of the entail. This fact had not endeared him to the family in life but had been forgiven him most magnanimously the instant he was no longer in a position to take advantage of it. So Mrs. Phillips, very delicately and with the utmost tact, inquired what this unexpected event might mean for the ultimate disposal of the Bennet estate. A lengthy speculation ensued, but Mrs. Bennet, who never fully comprehended the former arrangement, could not begin to fathom how it needs must be altered now.
Unfortunate as the clergyman’s passing may have been, it did serve the useful purpose of gathering together family and friends as only a wedding or funeral can. Mr. Collins’s relations had often been mortified by the connection, owing to his pompous style and social blunders, but they could not in good conscience refuse to wait upon him one last time. At least no one had need to worry about his behavior on this occasion.
The first noteworthy party to arrive at Hunsford Church was that of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, who were accompanied by Mary and Kitty, the only two of their daughters still remaining at home. Soon thereafter, other carriages brought two of the Bennets’ married daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, traveling with their respective husbands, Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. It had been months since these four, fast friends had last been together. Yet, as they met outside the church, their pleasure at the reunion was tempered by consciousness of the somber event that brought it about. The ladies embraced and the gentlemen shook hands, exchanging muted words of greeting before joining the rest of the family.
The Bennets’ fifth and youngest daughter, Lydia, lived in the far north, in Newcastle, where her husband was stationed with a regiment of army regulars. Mr. and Mrs. Wickham found themselves unable to attend the funeral due to the distance and expense involved. This suited everybody exceedingly well, except perhaps for Mrs. Bennet, who would have been happy to see them in any event since her youngest had always been her favorite. The rest of the family could not so easily forget or forgive the scandal Lydia had visited upon them by her elopement. So the couple’s absence was not generally regretted.
Sir William and Lady Lucas arrived from Hertfordshire to comfort their daughter, the new widow. They had been well-pleased with the match made by their eldest girl, reasoning that their son-in-law having secured the valuable patronage of Lady Catherine de Bourgh more than made up for any perceived drawbacks. In fact, they had congratulated themselves on getting Charlotte married off at last. Now they came to mark the untimely end of the union.
The great benefactress herself, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, condescended to attend Mr. Collins’s memorial as well. He had given her valuable service during his short tenure as rector, solicitously attending to her every whim, and always treating her with the extreme deference she demanded. Still, in truth, her ladyship’s presence resulted more from her presumed duty to lead the way in all matters within her sphere than from any genuine regard for the lowly clergyman.
Despite the cheerfully clement weather, the tone of the mourners gathering outside the stone church remained solemn and the conversation subdued out of respect for the dead. Everybody kept to their family groups, giving only nodding acknowledgements to the other persons present. Then, the arrival of a stranger – a rather refined-looking young woman – created quite a stir. Mrs. Collins greeted her with an embrace while the others speculated about her identity.
“Do you know who she is, Lizzy?” Jane quietly asked.
“I imagine she must be Mrs. Sanditon, Mr. Collins’s younger sister and, therefore, our cousin. Charlotte mentioned in her letter that she would be here. Her name is Ruth and she is a widow with no children. I understand her husband was a captain in the navy and lost his life at sea.”
“Widowed so young, just like Charlotte? How sad. She is a lovely woman.”
“Yes. I never would have taken her for Mr. Collins’s sister, would you?”
“I had forgotten that Mr. Collins even had a sister. Perhaps we will finally have the opportunity to meet her today.”
The balance of those gathered for the service were members of the little flock Mr. Collins had endeavored to shepherd since his ordination and preferment to the rectory at Hunsford. Whether or not they considered him a credit to his profession, these humble people had the good manners to honor their clergyman to the end. And so, quite a respectable number of mourners assembled to speed William Bartholomew Collins on his way to God.
Everybody took their places and the ceremony began. At the behest of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr. Collins’s bishop presided over the proceedings, doing and saying all that is right and proper on such an occasion. The dearly departed received appropriate eulogy, and the Almighty’s grace and pardon were implored on behalf of the living as well as the dead. After the body had been returned to the earth whence it came and the last prayer proffered, people moved to comfort the family and renew acquaintances.
No one present interested Lady Catherine, most especially since she was not on speaking terms with her nephew, Mr. Darcy, and steadfastly refused to acknowledge the existence of his wife. This was in fact the first time the two parties had knowingly been within twenty miles of one another since the breach occurred, and no sign of an easing of tensions showed on either side. Thus, after giving the obligatory notice to the widow, the dour lady took her leave.
Following her departure, which noticeably eased the oppressive atmosphere that hung over the gathering, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy paid their respects.
“Mrs. Collins, my sincere condolences,” said Darcy, taking Charlotte’s offered hand. “I would by no means wish to intrude upon your private sorrow. Only allow me say that my wife and I shall consider it a great honor if, should you find yourself in need, you were to think of us first. Should there be any service I might render you, please do not hesitate to make it known to me.”
“Thank you, sir. That is very generous.”
“Not at all. I would be most gratified to be of assistance.” Darcy bowed and moved on, leaving the two women to themselves.
Elizabeth embraced her life-long friend with true affection. “Oh, my dear Charlotte, what a shock you have had. How do you bear it?”
“It is most difficult. Mr. Collins was such a stable, dependable man; I never expected him to leave me so abruptly. One minute we were sharing an ordinary dinner together, and the next, he was slipping away forever. I felt so helpless; there was nothing I could do to save him.”
“How awful for you.”
“I still cannot fully comprehend that he is gone. Every time I look out into the garden, I half expect to see Mr. Collins there, fussing over his vegetables or tending the bees. I know you did not care for him yourself, Lizzy. Yet despite his faults, he suited me well. I had, in fact, grown rather fond of him… in my own way.”
“I do understand, Charlotte. One cannot help but become attached. How will you manage without him?”
“I confess that at times my courage nearly fails me. But then I tell myself that countless other women before me have survived the same hardship. I must carry on and trust things will look brighter by and by.”
“You have more strength than I should in your place, I think. Still, where will you live? How will you support yourself? As Mr. Darcy said, we are completely at your service.”
“What a kind friend you are, Lizzy. Still, you mustn’t distress yourself on my account. My husband left me a small income, which, with strict economies, might be made to supply my modest needs. I shall be very sorry to leave my home, though. Once Lady Catherine appoints a new cleric, I must make other arrangements. In the meantime, William’s sister is to stay on as my companion. Ruth and I are in much the same situation, you know, and I shall be glad to improve our friendship. If only she could have come under different circumstances.” Charlotte sighed. “Ah, well. It does no good to dwell on it.”
No words could adequately convey all Elizabeth felt on her friend’s account. She trusted her countenance and the press of her hand to carry home the depth of her sympathy.
Charlotte took a moment to recover her composure, and then went on. “I believe you said that you were not yet acquainted with Mrs. Sanditon, Lizzy.”
“That is correct. We have never met.”
“Then, pray, allow me to introduce you.” After doing so, Charlotte left the cousins in each other’s care, her attention presently being claimed by others.
“I am so pleased to meet you at last, Mrs. Sanditon,” said Elizabeth.
“As am I to meet you, Mrs. Darcy. My brother wrote often, and he frequently mentioned you and your family, so I do feel as if I know you a little.”
“Your brother was always a most generous correspondent,” Elizabeth acknowledged. “I am truly sorry for your loss, Mrs. Sanditon – first your husband and now your brother. Grief has been your constant companion, it seems. Were you and Mr. Collins close?”
“We were as children, all three of us, before time and distance intervened. You may not be aware of it, Mrs. Darcy, but I have another brother who emigrated to America. I haven’t seen dear Tristan since he sailed. Even William and I, though no ocean divided us, seldom met in recent years. Alas, I could almost say the same about my poor husband as we were often separated by his absences at sea. In the nearly four years we were married, we scarcely spent a total of twelve months under the same roof.”
“So little time together? Oh, my dear, I tremble at the very thought of it,” said Elizabeth, darting a glance at her own husband.
“It has been lonely without him, and I miss my brothers as well. At least I have their letters for comfort. By reading their words, I imagine that I keep my dear ones with me. Now I shall have Charlotte’s companionship as well.”
Being of similarly open and amiable dispositions, their conversation flowed effortlessly. As they talked, Elizabeth watched for some example of family resemblance between the siblings – the one before her and the one so recently departed – but she could detect no trace of Mr. Collins in his sister’s person or comportment. Mrs. Sanditon was fair; he had been dark. She possessed a slim figure, whereas he was decidedly stout. She was bright, genuine, and modest; her brother had been quite the reverse. Consequently, Elizabeth found this cousin much more agreeable, and when they parted company she expressed her earnest hope that they soon would meet again.
Elizabeth then turned to locate her husband. He was never completely comfortable in this sort of situation, and she did not wish to disconcert him unnecessarily by neglect. She spied him across the way, standing alone, patiently watching her. A tall man with noble mien, she admired him immensely, and he grew more handsome in her estimation month by month.
As their eyes met, a familiar, knowing look passed between them, causing her to take a sharp breath and feel a quickening of her heart. With private delight, she noted that nearly a year of marriage had, if anything, increased rather than diminished his power to affect her in this way. Elizabeth had no means of perceiving it, but at that moment Mr. Darcy entertained similarly pleasant thoughts about her.
Of course, this was only the beginning – of the book but also of a career as a novelist for me! After The Darcys of Pemberley, I’ve gone on to write two more P&P sequels (and a total of eight novels in all so far). And it’s all because I asked the question, “But what happens next?” I guess it pays to have an inquiring mind.
How many Jane Austen sequels have you read so far? Is there one you’re still waiting for somebody to write? If so, what would it be about? Do you have a preference between sequels and variations, and why?