I am excited to have my book launch today for “Chance and Circumstance!” I have been posting chapters since April, and this is the final one I will be posting here. (The book has 28 chapters and an epilogue.) In addition to sharing with you one final chapter, I will be giving away 2 copies of my book! If you are in the US, you have the chance to win a signed paperback, and if you are international, you can win an ebook. Just post in the comments by midnight this coming Wednesday to be eligible. I will post the winners next Friday.
All this month I have had reveals, first with the title, then the cover, last week the blurb, and today, I am sharing with you some of the blogs I will be visiting on my blog tour. The first of those, at http://babblingsofabookworm.blogspot.com/, will be next Friday, November 3, and I will post Chapter 14 of my book.
Here are other blogs I will be visiting:
Nov. 8 – http://moreagreeablyengaged.blogspot.com/
Nov. 14 – http://candy-m.blogspot.com/
Nov. 22 – http://austenesquereviews.com/
Nov. 29 – http://calicocritic.blogspot.com/
I hope you will visit me at each of these blogs, as there will be more chances to win!
My paperback is now available at Amazon here.
It should eventually be available in the Nook (although I’m having unprecedented problems getting the document loaded there!), iBookstore, Kobo, and Google Books, etc.)
And now, Chapter 13 –
Impatience reigned in the Bennet household as they waited for the Netherfield Ball. Days of inclement weather prevented them from going out, and Mrs. Bennet fretted that if the downpour did not let up, Mr. Marshall would likely not make it back in time to attend.
The ladies spent their idle time choosing which gowns they would wear, how they could alter them to appear new and improved, and what they could do differently with their hair. Kitty and Lydia could not stop talking about the officers who would be at the ball, and Mary frequently questioned Elizabeth about whether she thought Mr. Collins found her attractive or what more she could do to draw his attention to her.
After Elizabeth’s encounter with Mr. Darcy, she was grateful she was thinking more sensibly about him, pushing aside those feelings that had unexpectedly stirred within her that day. She needed only to call to mind how he had officiously treated Mr. Wickham and was currently treating Mr. Bingley. What he had done in coming to her aid that day was all that was proper and kind, but he had only done what any gentleman would have done.
While she knew it was imperative she begin discouraging Mr. Bingley’s attentions, she hoped an opportunity might present itself for her to speak with him about George Wickham first. She wondered if he knew anything about the acrimonious relationship between Mr. Wickham and his friend. She had hoped to meet with either of those two men again before the ball to possibly discover more, but the rains had prevented it.
She smiled as she thought of how amusing it would be to watch Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy at the ball to see what – if anything – would transpire between them.
It seemed that Mrs. Bennet’s fears about Mr. Marshall came to pass, for despite a slight let-up in the rain, he did not arrive the day before the ball. She was certain some dreadful accident must have occurred on a dark, lonely road, and no one would find him before it was too late.
He finally arrived the afternoon of the ball, quite apologetic, but assuring them he was well, had suffered no mishap, and was looking forward to an enjoyable evening of music and dancing.
There were several anxious and fretful moments in the ladies’ quarters as the time drew near to depart for Netherfield. Kitty and Lydia wondered if their gowns would stand out as striking. Up until the last minute, they were making alterations by adding or removing ribbons or lace. Mary fretted over whether she would look better with her hair in one style or another and continually sought Elizabeth’s advice. Mrs. Bennet could not decide whether one piece of jewellery would best suit her gown and enhance her appearance, or if another would be more flattering. Jane and Elizabeth were the only two who seemed to be content with their gowns, hair, and jewellery.
Elizabeth walked into Mary’s room and found her simply staring into the mirror, shaking her head. “There is nothing to be done, Lizzy. While Mr. Collins has been attentive to me, he has certainly not given me any indication that he has any real affection for me.”
Elizabeth placed her hands on her sister’s shoulders and looked into the mirror at her. “Then you must let him know where your interest lies.” She bit her lip. “Stand up, Mary, and let me see you in your gown.”
Mary stood up, although her shoulders sagged and her head drooped.
“No, you must stand tall and erect.” Elizabeth pulled her sister’s shoulders back. “You must carry yourself like you know you are a beautiful woman.”
“But I am not a beautiful woman.”
Elizabeth let out a sigh and led her to a full-length mirror. “Look at yourself in that dress. You are beautiful Mary, and if you believe that, others who look at you will believe it, as well.”
Mary sat back down, and Elizabeth began to play with her hair, curling some strands and weaving ribbons through them.
“How am I to let Mr. Collins know I am interested in him? I do not know how.”
“Mary, if I may be so bold, may I give you one piece of advice?”
Mary solemnly nodded.
“Smile. Smile frequently. Smile and even laugh at what he says… when it is appropriate.”
“I could never…”
“Mary, the good Lord made us to laugh. It is an indication of our being joyful and well-pleased.” She leaned down towards her. “I would imagine that if you smiled at Mr. Collins and let him know that you find delight in what he says, it will please him immeasurably.”
“I do not always feel like smiling.”
“Mary, if you do not feel like smiling, think of something that makes you smile.” Elizabeth came and stood at her side. “Perhaps you can imagine being married and having a houseful of children that you are holding and rocking. You love children. Only think how that will be.”
A small smile appeared on Mary’s face. “That does make me smile.”
“Good.” Elizabeth looked away so Mary could not see the wince she made at the thought of being married to Mr. Collins, but she truly felt her sister would welcome it.
After adding a ribbon and flowers to her hair, Elizabeth stepped back. “Mary, you look beautiful, and I would imagine there will be several gentlemen who will ask you to dance with them this evening.”
“Oh, I do not think so, and even if they did, I would not wish…”
Elizabeth put up her hand to stay that thought. “Mr. Collins has already expressed his intention to dance with each of us tonight, so you know you must dance at least one with him, and…” Elizabeth chuckled. “Perhaps you can accept a dance with another gentleman or two in order to promote a bit of jealousy on his part.”
“Oh, Lizzy, I could not do such a thing!”
“Not intentionally, Mary, but if a man sees a lovely young lady with another man, it does make her seem more desirable to him.”
Mary’s eyes widened in frustration. “Must I?”
Elizabeth wagged her finger at Mary. “Indeed, you must!”
Mary began to slouch. “If you think it will help.”
Elizabeth pulled back her shoulders again and gave her a hug. “I believe it will, Mary.”
As they gathered downstairs, Elizabeth was eager to observe Mr. Collins when he saw Mary. She had to admit that Mary looked lovelier than she had ever seen her. Perhaps she was not as pretty as her other sisters, but Elizabeth was rather proud of her sister’s successful transformation.
When Mr. Collins joined them, he greeted the others and then stopped abruptly when he saw Mary. He smiled, looked around at the others briefly, and then went to her side.
Elizabeth had to force herself not to let out a triumphant victory cry. It appeared her hard work had paid off!
Mr. Bingley’s carriage was waiting as they stepped out of Longbourn. With some hints from Elizabeth, Mr. Bennet determined that Mr. Marshall, Jane, Lizzy, and he would travel in Mr. Bingley’s carriage, and Mrs. Bennet, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, and Mr. Collins would ride in the Longbourn carriage.
As the two carriages made their way to Netherfield, the moon was full and bright, but small trails of clouds occasionally passed in front of it, obscuring its light. The air was cool, but fresh from the recent rains.
In the one carriage, Kitty and Lydia were their usual boisterous selves, declaring that they would dance every dance, that there would be more officers than they would be able to count, and that it would be the finest affair to ever have been held in the neighbourhood.
In the other carriage, it was mostly quiet, with Mr. Marshall answering questions about his trip to visit his friends. It was the first time since returning that he had been given the opportunity to talk about it. He had not seen these friends in five years, had grown up with them in London, and had an enjoyable time seeing them again.
When they pulled in front of Netherfield, everyone stepped out of the carriage. The candlelight glistened from every window, and several torches lit up the front of the stately home.
Mrs. Bennet let out a joyous cry of exclamation. “Heavens! It looks beautiful!” She clasped her hands tightly. “Will this not be a splendid affair?”
Mr. Bennet shook his head. “I will consider it splendid only when it is over and we are returning home.”
“Papa!” exclaimed Lydia. “I do not know how you can say such a thing!”
He huffed. “Very easily, my dear. Very easily.”
They greeted friends from the neighbourhood as they walked up to the stately house. Inside, candlelight bounced off the walls, and music could be heard playing in another room. Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, and Mr. Hurst stood just inside welcoming their guests as they arrived.
When the Bennets stepped up to greet them, a wide smile appeared on Mr. Bingley’s face. “Good evening! It is so good to see all of you this evening.” He turned to his sisters to introduce them to Jane and the two other gentlemen in their party, whom they had not yet met. As Elizabeth stepped up to him, he whispered, “May I ask that you save the first dance for me?”
“I would be pleased to, Mr. Bingley.” She hoped she sounded polite but not overly eager.
As their party walked in, it was apparent that the Bingleys had hosted parties before. Everything seemed perfect, from the flowers around the room and the small orchestra, to the tables laden with an assortment of food. It was going to be a splendid affair!
Elizabeth looked around and readily noticed several officers in attendance, save for one in particular. She did not see Mr. Wickham. It was possible he was there, but she wondered whether he may have decided not to come. She would be so disappointed if he did not! And all due to Mr. Darcy, whom she noticed standing off in a corner of the room.
She glimpsed Charlotte and hurried over to her with outstretched arms. “Charlotte! It is so good to see you. It seems like it has been forever.”
“Yes, it has. I believe I saw you last at the party we had at Lucas Lodge.”
“Oh, now you make me feel terrible, Charlotte. With Jane having finally come home, I fear that I have not had the time to visit you.”
“And it is just as much my fault, Lizzy. I did not feel it was right to intrude with her having just returned home.”
“You need not feel that way,” Elizabeth reassured her.
“No, I suppose not. Would you mind introducing me to the gentleman at her side? I have heard from my mother that she has a beau!”
Elizabeth gently patted her friend’s hand. “You know how my mother likes to jump to conclusions, Charlotte. Mr. Marshall is most amiable, but Jane does not wish there to be a lot of speculation yet about the two of them.”
“Much like you and Mr. Bingley?”
Elizabeth only smiled. “Come. I shall introduce you, but I must warn you. The gentleman next to Mary is our cousin, Mr. Collins, and I fear you must be introduced to him, as well.”
Charlotte laughed as they walked over. “You make that sound like a warning, Lizzy.”
“You might call it that, my good friend. He is… well, I shall hold my tongue.”
“You? Hold your tongue?”
“To own the truth, Charlotte, we believe he is perfectly suited to Mary. He is a clergyman, and I think they would do well together.”
They walked over to the two couples, and Elizabeth made the introductions.
“Miss Lucas, it is a pleasure to meet you.” Mr. Marshall gave a quick bow.
“Thank you, Mr. Marshall. I hope you are enjoying your stay here.”
“I am. It is a delightful neighbourhood.” He smiled and said, “Ah! I believe that the first dance is about to commence.” He extended his arm towards Jane. “Shall we?”
Mr. Collins expressed his pleasure at meeting Charlotte, as well, and then hurried Mary off to the dance floor.
Elizabeth turned to see Mr. Bingley walking over. “Miss Bennet, I am here to claim our first dance!”
“Certainly, Mr. Bingley.” She sent Charlotte an apologetic look for leaving her by herself.
As Elizabeth walked with Mr. Bingley to the head of the set for the dance, others gathered around. She greeted Mr. Darcy, who took his place with Miss Bingley next to them. She looked down the set and beamed with joy when she saw Mr. Collins smiling at Mary.
With a smile still on her face, she happened to glance over at Mr. Darcy. He smiled back, and Elizabeth realized he likely thought she was smiling at him. She quickly sobered her expression, more from wanting to rid herself of the thought – only a slight thought – that he was much more handsome when he smiled and when dressed in the fashionable, formal attire he was wearing. She looked towards the orchestra, hoping they would begin soon. She needed to keep his true character foremost in her mind.
As the dance began, Mr. Bingley took Elizabeth’s hands, and she complimented him on the success of the ball.
“I thank you,” he said. “I owe much to my sisters, who planned everything. I care little for all the details, and they are more than willing to make the decisions.”
“I see,” she replied.
“I was sorry to have missed you the other day when I visited Longbourn.”
“Yes, I heard you stopped by. I apparently returned from my walk just after you left.”
They separated, and Elizabeth found herself taking Mr. Darcy’s hand briefly. “It is good to see you, Miss Bennet. Have you had any need of being rescued lately?”
His smile was more like a teasing smirk; at least, she believed that was his intention.
“You will be pleased to know that I have not, but only because the rains kept me indoors.”
Darcy nodded. “Good for the rain.”
They parted, and it appeared that Bingley was continuing his conversation with her.
“But I had a delightful conversation with your mother and your elder sister.”
“They enjoyed their time with you, as well, and Jane said she enjoyed getting to know you.”
“Did she say that? I am glad.”
Elizabeth noticed Mary and Mr. Collins, who were just on the other side of Jane and Mr. Marshall. It was apparent that Mr. Collins had taken a wrong step and collided with the person next to him.
Mary did not seem to be dismayed by it at all, which made Elizabeth smile. She suddenly had a thought and turned to Mr. Bingley when they came back together.
“Would you mind if I asked you a favour?”
“Not at all!” he said joyfully.
“Would you please ask my sister Mary to dance when she has finished with Mr. Collins? She rarely gets asked, and… I think it would be nice.”
“I would be delighted to!” His face lit up in a smile, “In fact, I shall ask all your sisters to dance!”
“Well, I fear Kitty and Lydia likely have the remaining dances already spoken for, but you can certainly try.”
“I shall do just that!”
When the dance ended, Elizabeth watched as Mr. Bingley walked over to Mary and asked her to dance. Mr. Collins, who stood by her, appeared somewhat surprised, but when Mary and Mr. Bingley stood up together for the dance, she readily detected a furrowed brow.
Mr. Collins then hurried over to Jane and asked for her hand in the next set, prompting Mr. Marshall to walk over to Elizabeth.
“It appears we are both without partners,” he said. “Did I comprehend correctly what just happened, and that you asked Mr. Bingley to dance with Miss Mary?”
Elizabeth widened her eyes in mock innocence and smiled. “You would charge me with doing something as scheming as that?”
“Never, but if you like, I shall ask her to dance, as well.”
“Would you? That would please me to no end.”
“And perhaps make Mr. Collins a little jealous?”
Elizabeth gave a guilty nod. “You are quite perceptive, Mr. Marshall.”
He laughed. “Not really. Miss Bennet informed me of your plans for Miss Mary and Mr. Collins.”
“Ah, I see.”
“Meanwhile, may I ask you to dance this one with me?”
Elizabeth smiled. “It would be my pleasure.”
They took their place between her two sisters and their partners, somewhat disappointing Elizabeth, for she would not be able to quiz Mr. Marshall about his feelings with Jane nearby.
“Are you enjoying yourself, Mr. Marshall?”
“Indeed. There is nothing like a country ball in a fine manor to boost one’s spirits.”
“I agree,” she said, but wondered why his spirits needed boosting. “You are fortunate you were away from Longbourn this week, as a household of females stuck indoors because of the rains and planning their attire for a ball may have been overwhelming if you are not used to it.”
He laughed. “I can only imagine. How does your father handle those times?”
“Have you not noticed how much time he spends in his study? That is where he finds rest and solace when our household is in an uproar.”
“He has found a very practical way to handle it.”
They continued to dance, with Elizabeth keeping her eye on Mary. Elizabeth was pleased with Mr. Bingley in that he conversed readily with her sister, and she often saw both of them smiling.
When the danced ended, Mr. Collins hurried to Mary’s side, as if to ensure she did not dance with someone else.
Mr. Marshall bowed and thanked Elizabeth, setting off to the side of the room. She then watched Mr. Bingley approach Jane, and it was apparent he asked her to dance. She began to join Mr. Marshall, but realized he had asked Charlotte to dance.
As all couples lined up in the set to wait for the music to begin, she felt someone at her side.
Elizabeth turned to face Mr. Darcy.
“As it seems you are without a partner, may I have the next dance?”
She was rather surprised he solicited her hand and was momentarily without words. Finally, she said, “I… thank you.” She could endure one set with him, but she was suspicious of his motives for asking her. She surmised that during their dance, he intended to try to convince her out of any feelings she might have for Mr. Bingley. She swallowed and squared her shoulders, as if defying him to try.
She realized, however, that with Mr. Collins paying so much attention to Mary, she might have to continue with this charade for only a day or two more. She let out a soft sigh, however, as she considered the only reason she would wish to continue feigning a strong admiration for Mr. Bingley was to spite Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley.
As the prelude to the music began, Mr. Darcy walked Elizabeth over to the set. When he placed them as far away from Mr. Bingley as possible, she was certain it was so he could speak to her without his friend overhearing.
She noticed Miss Bingley’s rather surprised and irritated glance at the two of them. Elizabeth thought she looked more disappointed that they were dancing rather than delighted that Mr. Darcy would likely take advantage of the opportunity to discourage her affections towards Mr. Bingley.
As Mr. Darcy had only danced with Mr. Bingley’s sisters since coming into Hertfordshire, Elizabeth wondered whether Miss Bingley was feeling jealousy rather than partnership with him in his manipulative endeavour. Elizabeth laughed to herself. At least this was an easy way to irritate Miss Bingley.
As the music began, and they took their initial steps towards one another, Darcy appeared content to merely watch her and seemed uninterested in talking. This was fine with Elizabeth, except she was certain he was trying to formulate an argument against his friend that she would not be able to counter.
Darcy finally spoke. “Your sister appears happy to be home.”
“She is,” Elizabeth said. “As am I that she has returned.”
“Are the two of you close?”
They parted briefly, and when they came back together, Elizabeth said, “Indeed, we are. She is a wonderful sister and friend, and is the perfect example of a proper young lady.”
“She seems pleasant.”
“Yes. Jane has the good fortune of being exceptionally beautiful, gracious, and generous…” The sound of Lydia laughing boisterously drew Elizabeth’s attention.
“But sadly, she has the misfortune to have two younger sisters who are not inclined to emulate her.”
“And you?” Darcy asked as they parted again.
Elizabeth took a moment to ponder her answer. When they came back together she smiled and said, “I fear I have tried, but she is far too good for me. I have neither the ability to overlook one’s faults as she does…” She looked up at him with an arched brow. “Nor the desire to do so.” She hoped her arch look would make him realize she was speaking of him.
They walked down the set with his hand holding hers, and she felt him tense. Perhaps he had taken her words as she intended. When she glanced up at him, however, he was looking towards the side door.
When she turned to look in that direction, she saw that George Wickham had entered the ballroom. He had come! Elizabeth smiled broadly just as Darcy turned back to her with a deep scowl etched on his face.