In addition to posting Chapter 11 of my new book, “Chance and Circumstance,” I’m excited today to reveal the cover. I am also excited because my sister, Cheryl Wallace, painted the cover for me. I asked her to paint the landscape and the girl separately so I could move her around and play with it a little as I put in the text. I am very pleased with the result!
My sister took a water color painting class a year or two ago, but then began teaching herself and has improved greatly! She already has a book to her credit – she illustrated a children’s book that was written and self-published by a friend of hers. She also uploads her paintings to a website where they can be put on a variety of items. You can check out my cover picture here. For the past few weeks, I have included in my posts the head of a girl facing away, and you will see that she is the girl my sister painted. I hope you like the cover – you will find it beneath Chapter 11.
Elizabeth returned home from her aunt and uncle’s home in a restless and unsettled frame of mind. Despite having seen evidence of Mr. Darcy’s officious behaviour, it was difficult to fathom him going against his own father’s wishes and promises to Mr. Wickham.
How could he have acted in such a malicious manner? She crossed her arms and stamped her foot as she considered his inexcusable conduct.
She sat on her bed and picked up her pillow, wrapping her arms tightly about it. She knew Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy had met at Cambridge, but she wondered how such a strong friendship between them continued. Was there something beyond Mr. Darcy’s assisting his friend in some of his classes while at Cambridge?
Was Mr. Bingley aware of what Mr. Darcy had done to Mr. Wickham? Her eyes widened as she pondered how Mr. Bingley felt about Mr. Darcy’s interference in regard to herself. Did Mr. Darcy have some sort of control over him?
She fell back on the bed, causing a rattle. She winced as she hoped it would not waken anyone, but a moment later there was a tap on her door.
She rolled over and looked up. “Come in,” she said.
The door opened, and Jane walked in. “I wondered if you were awake. I wanted to know if we could talk.”
Elizabeth sat up. “Of course! You may have been gone a few months, but nothing has changed between us. I welcome your visits any time.” She tilted her head and looked at her. “What is on your mind?”
Tears came to Jane’s eyes. “Oh, Lizzy, I am not quite certain what I should do.”
Elizabeth reached out and took her hand. “What is it?”
Jane wiped away a tear that rolled down her cheek, and then began fingering her handkerchief. She drew in a deep breath. “It is Mr. Marshall. I began to realize on our journey here that he and I are very different.” She cast her eyes down. “And then tonight, while playing the games at Aunt and Uncle Philips’s, I found him to be so…”
Elizabeth smiled. “Intent on winning?”
Jane nodded and let out a nervous laugh. “Almost ruthless in his desire to win.” She shook her head. “While he is a very kind and proper gentleman, he has some…” Jane paused and shrugged. “I do not know why I now have so many doubts.” She lifted her hands in frustration. “But I just do.”
“Jane, there are times we can only listen to our heart and believe what it is telling us, even if we are not certain why.”
Jane nodded. “I do not know what to do. He came all this way with me…”
“Jane, there is no understanding between you, is there?”
Jane shook her head and wiped her tears again.
“Then all is good in that respect.” Elizabeth clasped her sister’s hand. “But Jane, there is something I must tell you. You may not fully understand at first, but it is imperative that you not say anything to anyone else about your doubts. Not just yet.”
“But I need to let him know.”
“Yes, but you must wait a little while longer.”
Elizabeth pressed her lips tightly together and looked at Jane intently. “Apparently Mr. Collins has come to Longbourn with the intention of selecting one of us for his wife.”
Jane’s eyes widened. “He has? How do you know?”
Elizabeth sighed. “Kitty and Lydia overheard him speaking with Mamma. Fortunately, our dear mother informed him that you and I were almost engaged, and he would need to look elsewhere. When Mother suggested Mary, he did not seem particularly interested, but Jane, I believe she would be ideal for him. Of course, Kitty and Lydia are adamant they will not have him.”
“So you and I are spared because of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Marshall?”
Elizabeth nodded and then tilted her head, looking at her sister with a twinkle in her eyes. “Do you think perhaps I can help Mr. Collins see Mary in a different light?”
“He did spend a good amount of time with her today.”
“Yes, he did. I gave her a little advice on how to gain his interest and make herself a little more attractive to him.”
“Did you? Did she welcome your advice?”
Elizabeth let out a breathy chuckle. “Surprisingly enough, she did, but reluctantly. Jane, you are by far the prettiest of all of us, and I had readily noticed how often our cousin’s gaze went to you when he first arrived. If there was any indication that you and Mr. Marshall were not on the path to an engagement, I believe he would shift his attentions back onto you.”
“So what should I do?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “The Netherfield Ball is only a few days away. Let us wait until then. I plan to transform Mary into a most desirable looking young lady that night and hope it will be all that is needed to secure his affections.”
Jane pursed her lips in a smile. “Oh, Lizzy, only you would think of doing such a thing. I would have never thought of trying to convince Mr. Collins that Mary is for him.”
Elizabeth’s brows narrowed. “Jane, it will not be me influencing him! Heavens, it will be Mary herself.”
Jane leaned over and kissed her sister on the cheek. “You are the dearest sister one could ever have.” She walked towards the door, and then turned back. “Mr. Marshall is pleasant enough that I am certain I can enjoy his company a little longer.”
“Just do not accept an offer if he makes one!” Elizabeth whispered with a laugh as Jane walked out and closed the door.
Elizabeth suddenly frowned and slowly shook her head. “My trying to influence Mr. Collins’s affections is not at all similar to Mr. Darcy trying to influence his friend!” She drew in a breath. “Not in the slightest!”
For several nights, Elizabeth slept fitfully. The account Mr. Wickham had given her concerning Mr. Darcy, as well as wondering about Mr. Bingley, Jane, and Mr. Marshall, weighed on her mind. She also fretted whether there was anything she could do to help Mary attract Mr. Collins’s attention. She tossed and turned, pounded her pillow, and got up and paced into the early hours of the morning. Nothing helped her form any conclusive answers for any of her concerns.
A few days later, Mr. Marshall set off to meet his friends in southern Hertfordshire with the promise that he would return the day before the Netherfield Ball.
Once he departed, Mrs. Bennet began to question Jane persistently about his intentions and whether she believed he would be asking for her hand when he returned.
Elizabeth felt sorry for her sister, as she could readily see the distress apparent on her face. She gave her smiles of encouragement, for she hoped she would say nothing about her reservations, especially when Mr. Collins was sitting nearby. Just a little while longer, Jane. She turned to see Mary seated close to Mr. Collins, but unfortunately, they were not conversing. Will Mr. Collins ever see how perfect Mary is for him?
Later that afternoon, Elizabeth inquired whether anyone wanted to walk with her. It was an unusually warm November day, and the sunshine beckoned her.
Jane was tired and said she preferred to stay at home. Lydia and Kitty agreed to go with her but only so far as the path that would take them into Meryton.
Neither Mary nor Mr. Collins wished to join her, as they had both become quite fatigued when they had walked with everyone to Meryton.
Once Elizabeth and the two youngest sisters had left the house, it grew very quiet. Jane concentrated on stitching a small piece of needlework, Mrs. Bennet rocked in her chair resting her eyes, Mary sat in a far corner reading, and Mr. Collins had repaired to his chamber. When there was a knock on the door, Mrs. Bennet was startled awake.
“Who can that be?” she asked, fluttering her hands. “We were not expecting anyone.” She looked at Jane. “Are we expecting anyone?”
Jane shrugged. “I cannot say.”
She suddenly frowned. “Oh, dear. What if it is Mr. Bingley? I am certain it must be Mr. Bingley! With Elizabeth gone, what are we to do?”
“Mother,” Jane replied calmly. “We do not know who it is, but if perchance it is Mr. Bingley, we can still invite him in and visit with him.” Jane ran her hand over her dress to smooth it. “Besides, I should like to get to know him a little better.”
“Yes, but it would be so much better if Lizzy were here!”
A maid stepped in and announced Mr. Bingley.
The young man stepped in, and Mrs. Bennet welcomed him warmly. “What a pleasant surprise, Mr. Bingley. We are glad you have come, but unfortunately, Lizzy has gone out for a walk. Perhaps if you stay long enough, she will return.” She waved her hands through the air. “Or perhaps if you set out directly, you can catch her.” She shook her head. “But then, I do not know where she was planning to go.”
Mr. Bingley smiled. “She does enjoy walking. I had not planned to stay long, but… since Miss Elizabeth is not here, perhaps I can get to know Miss Bennet better.” He looked at Jane and smiled. “If you do not mind.”
Jane returned his smile. “I do not mind at all.”
“That would be splendid,” Mrs. Bennet said cheerfully. “Mr. Marshall departed this morning for a few days to visit friends. With him away, I am certain Jane would welcome any company.” She extended her hand inviting the gentleman to sit.
Mr. Bingley sat down and clasped his hands. Turning to Jane, he asked, “Are you enjoying being home, Miss Bennet?”
Jane nodded. “Yes, indeed. I missed everyone, although my aunt and uncle are very dear to me and it was a delight to travel with them.”
He smiled broadly. “I am certain they enjoyed their time with you, as well.”
“Oh, they most certainly did!” Mrs. Bennet exclaimed. “Jane is the sweetest girl and never causes any trouble.” She shook her head. “I know Mr. Marshall has enjoyed getting to know her and most likely misses her already.”
Jane blushed. “I am certain he is enjoying visiting with his friends, Mamma.”
“He seems an amiable gentleman,” Bingley said. “Although I only met him briefly in Meryton.”
“Oh, he is, he is!” Mrs. Bennet said. “We are delighted with him and so pleased that Jane seems to have become an object of his admiration.”
Jane’s cheeks turned rosy. “Please, Mamma.”
Bingley looked around him and then back to Jane. “I have enjoyed getting to know your sister, Miss Elizabeth, as well. She is lively, witty, and such delightful company.” He laughed. “And she loves to walk!”
Jane chuckled. “That she does. She loves to read, as well. She takes after our father in that regard. If she finds herself with any idle time, she immediately picks up a book.” She inclined her head. “She has learnt a lot about the world that way.”
“And are you and your sister alike?”
“No, we are not,” Jane said with a smile. “While we are as close as any two sisters could be, we are quite different. I do not have such a voracious desire to read, I am content to walk if only to spend time with her, and I am much more… subdued.” Jane let out a breathy sigh. “I regret that I am not like her at all.”
Bingley laughed, and his eyes sparkled. “Miss Bennet, there is no reason to feel any regret over the differences between you and your sister.” He looked down and smiled. “I must confess that I am not as good a reader as I ought to be.” He shook his head. “I know I ought to read more than I do, but I find there are so many other things I prefer to do.”
Jane smiled. “Then you ought to do the things which you prefer.”
“Yes, but my friend Darcy claims a person should always make time to read a good book to improve their mind.”
“I have heard about Mr. Darcy, but have not yet met him,” Jane said. “Lizzy said he had ridden into Meryton with you the other day. I did not notice him, and apparently he did not stop to be introduced.”
Mr. Bingley’s face clouded. “I cannot account for it. He is always so very proper.”
“I am certain he had his reasons,” Jane said.
Mr. Bingley leaned in towards her. “Yes, those were my thoughts precisely.”
At length, Mrs. Bennet cleared her throat and said, “Mr. Bingley, I wish to thank you again for your generous hospitality towards our Lizzy when she stayed at Netherfield. She could not stop talking about how kindly she was treated and how she was made to feel so comfortable.”
“It was our pleasure,” he replied. “I know…”
“She has assured us that she experienced no ill treatment. She was quite at ease being there and owes it all to you… and your sisters.”
“I am greatly relieved to hear that.” His voice held a hint of laughter, and his eyes shone with amusement as he turned to look at Jane. “I would be terribly distraught if she felt she had been treated poorly.”
“She could not stop talking about how kind and generous everyone was,” Mrs. Bennet added. “She was…”
“Mother, I am certain Mr. Bingley is assured of her gratitude,” Jane interjected. “And yours.”
“We were happy to do it. The rains that day were ferocious!” Bingley looked at Jane. “We have had quite a bit of rainy weather since I moved here in September. Did you have much rain while touring the Lake District?”
“We had some rain, but we were there long enough to have had many pleasant days, as well.” Jane looked down as her hand ran across the fabric of her dress. “We could not complain about the rainy days at all.”
“Oh, but I am certain you did not endure what we did here!” Mrs. Bennet cried. “For three straight days no one could venture out. And then the day Lizzy went to Netherfield, I thought for sure our home would be washed away in a flood!”
“Was it truly that bad?” she looked from her mother to Mr. Bingley.
He nodded. “The roads were getting quite impassable as Darcy, Hurst, and I returned from being with the officers in Meryton. I am grateful Darcy suggested to me that we have Miss Elizabeth remain at Netherfield for the night.”
“Yes, that was very wise,” Jane said.
They further discussed Jane’s trip to the Lake District, with Mr. Bingley expressing his desire to see it, as he had never been there.
There was silence in the room for a moment, and then Mr. Bingley said, “Oh, I almost forgot the reason I came. I wanted to offer my carriage to you the night of the ball. I know that with nine people, it would be impossible to fit into your carriage, and I thought it might help to have another one at your disposal.”
“Oh, Mr. Bingley,” Mrs. Bennet waved her handkerchief through the air. “That is so kind and generous of you. I do not think any of us even considered how we would get to Netherfield in our finest attire in only one carriage. You are too kind.”
Jane looked at him and smiled. “Thank you, Mr. Bingley.”
He drew in a slow breath. “You are very welcome, but the idea was actually…” He did not finish. “I am pleased to be able to do it.”
“On many occasions we have squeezed all seven of us into the carriage, have we not, Jane? But nine?” Mrs. Bennet winced. “It is very good of you, sir.”
Standing, he brushed off his breeches and gave a quick bow. “Again, there is no need to thank me, but I fear I have taken up too much of your time. Thank you both for allowing me to visit.”
“Oh, there is no need to leave so soon. Lizzy ought to return shortly,” Jane suggested.
He quickly sat back down. “If you insist. I do believe I can stay a little longer.” He turned to Jane. “Tell me, Miss Bennet, what is your favourite thing to do in the neighbourhood?”