Some of you are aware that I am currently writing a book I have titled, “Mr. Darcy’s Rival.” I am not quite finished with it, but I thought I would post Chapter 1 of the book as an incentive for me to get it done. This is the book that has Anne de Bourgh as an author, who pens “A Peculiar Engagement,” which Elizabeth reads. I posted all but the last chapter of that book here. I do hope to have “Mr. Darcy’s Rival” ready to publish in February, or March at the latest. There is one more set of edits to be done, so this might be considered an ‘Advanced Reader’s Excerpt.’ 🙂
Elizabeth sat quietly in the carriage across from Sir William Lucas; his youngest daughter, Maria, sat beside her. The tall, robust gentleman chatted incessantly about the good match his eldest daughter, Charlotte, had made to Mr. Collins, and it took every ounce of willpower Elizabeth possessed to display a charming smile and not refute his nonsense. She was grateful she had brought along a book in which she could lose herself. She could, at least, pretend she was captivated by the novel. In truth, his ramblings, coupled with the carriage jarring over ruts in the road, made it difficult for her to attend to the words on the page. She hoped they would soon arrive at Hunsford parsonage, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Collins.
Sir William’s elevated praises about his daughter’s marriage held no weight to Elizabeth’s opinions and sentiments regarding the match. She considered Mr. Collins a foolish man and believed her friend had acted out of desperation for her unmarried state rather than from any sort of sound judgement, and definitely not from love. Charlotte had reassured her, however, that she had acted in a completely reasonable manner in accepting the clergyman’s offer of marriage just days after Elizabeth had refused his offer for her hand.
Elizabeth hoped that she could enjoy Charlotte’s company without too much interruption from her husband. She found herself curious, indeed, as to how her friend was faring. She gave a slight shudder as she contemplated how her own mother had insisted she marry Mr. Collins when he had made her the offer. Fortunately, Elizabeth’s father had countered her mother’s mandate, and her refusal was permitted, nay, even greatly encouraged, by him.
Elizabeth would be a full month here, and despite looking forward to spending time with her friend, she knew that the mere presence of Mr. Collins would afford her little pleasure. She wondered whether she would soon be counting the days before she returned home. A heaviness weighed down upon her; she felt keenly the loss of Charlotte as her closest friend. Marrying Mr. Collins had not only moved her fifty miles away, but Charlotte was now subject to the whims of one of the most ridiculous men Elizabeth had ever met.
Marrying just to be married and settled well was not something Elizabeth desired. She wondered if she would ever meet an honourable man who would love her and whom she would love in return with all her heart.
Her thoughts turned to her sweet Jane, and how she and Charles Bingley had formed an attachment last autumn. Yet he had left their small neighbourhood without so much as taking his leave. Poor Jane! She was now in London, hoping to see him and determine what had happened to so radically change his opinion of her.
Elizabeth’s brows narrowed. She could not think of any reasonable explanation as to why he would leave in such a hurried fashion with no further communication. She began to wonder if there was a decent gentleman anywhere in all of England. Even Mr. Bingley’s friend, Mr. Darcy, despite being rich and handsome, had proven to be arrogant, uncivil, and ill-mannered, provoking her highest disapproval and censure.
Sir William pointed out the window. “Here it is, I believe. Is it not a most charming home? Hunsford certainly suits our Charlotte.”
“It is lovely,” Elizabeth replied with little enthusiasm.
“It looks smaller than I thought it would be,” Maria said, leaning across Elizabeth’s lap to peer out.
“It will suit them for now. They shall not have to live here forever, you know.”
Elizabeth felt her insides tighten as she fisted her hands. He may not have meant it, but it certainly sounded as though Sir William was referring to Mr. Collins’s fortunate situation as the heir presumptive to Longbourn, her family home, which would only come to fruition with the death of her father. It was something she tried not to think about, but that was difficult, as her mother never ceased mentioning it.
As the carriage pulled up to the front of the parsonage and came to a halt, Mr. and Mrs. Collins rushed out to greet their guests. Seeing Charlotte after so many months brought a smile to Elizabeth’s face, even though her friend was on the arm of Mr. Collins.
After the threesome stepped down from the carriage, Elizabeth held back, allowing Charlotte to hug her father and sister. Once Charlotte had greeted them properly, she took the few steps to Elizabeth and reached out for her hands.
“Welcome to Hunsford, Elizabeth.”
“Hello, my dear friend! How are you?” Elizabeth asked.
“I am doing well, and everything is perfect as I now have family and my best friend here.” She squeezed Elizabeth’s hands and then slipped one arm through hers, guiding her towards Mr. Collins, who gave a slight bow.
“Cousin Elizabeth, it is good to see you. I am certain you will find that Charlotte has found her life here to be one of great contentment and delight.”
Elizabeth felt Charlotte’s arm tighten about hers. “I am sure she has,” she replied politely.
“Let us all go inside, shall we?” Mr. Collins said to his guests. “I know you are eager to see our humble abode!”
There was a quick tour of the small, but cosy, home. In each room they viewed, a token of praise from Mr. Collins went to Lady Catherine, who apparently had done much to improve it. Afterwards, Elizabeth, Charlotte, and Maria took tea in the sitting room while Sir William and Mr. Collins toured the gardens. Elizabeth thought the home was well laid out, as there were several rooms Charlotte could use if she wished to avoid her husband’s company.
“How was the journey?” Charlotte asked. “Did you find it to be long and arduous?”
“Not at all,” Elizabeth replied. “Time passes quickly when you anticipate arriving at your destination.”
Charlotte laughed. “I sometimes find it passes more slowly when you are looking forward to it, and passes all too quickly when you are dreading your arrival.”
Elizabeth smiled, wondering if Charlotte had dreaded coming to her new home after she and Mr. Collins were married.
“It would have been much more pleasant if our carriage had ridden more smoothly!” Maria exclaimed.
Charlotte patted her sister’s arm. “There are so many more ruts in the road since the recent rains we received. I think even the finest carriage would have difficulty offering its occupants a smooth ride.”
“I thought we would never arrive, and Father talked almost non-stop,” Maria complained. “Lizzy had a book to read, but I had no choice but to sit there and listen to him.”
“You could have read a book, as well,” Charlotte said. “Certainly one of your gothic novels would have sufficed.”
Maria stood up and made her way across the room. “It still would have been a long journey.” She drew close to the window, looking to the right and left. After a few moments she went to the next window, which looked out in a different direction. “Charlotte, there is someone out there talking with Father and Mr. Collins.” She turned around. “Do you know who it is?”
Charlotte set her teacup down and rose to her feet. “It could be Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”
“No, it cannot be Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It is a gentleman! And from here, he looks to be quite handsome!” Maria pressed her face closer to the window. “He is medium height, a little shorter than Father, and has light brown hair and is quite slender.”
Elizabeth raised a brow and looked at her friend. “Charlotte, you did not inform me about any handsome men in the immediate area. What secrets are you keeping from me?”
Charlotte moved across the room to join her sister. “It sounds like Matthew Rickland, a nephew of Lady Catherine.”
Elizabeth looked at her, a question on her face. “A nephew? Then is he Mr. Darcy’s cousin?”
Charlotte shook her head. “No, I believe he is on the de Bourgh side of the family; a sister’s son, I think.”
Elizabeth followed Charlotte to the window and looked out. “You are correct, Maria. He does appear handsome from here, but perhaps Charlotte will tell us he grows less so the closer he gets.”
“On the contrary. If you promise not to tell my husband, I believe you will see that he improves in appearance as he draws near.” Charlotte let out a long sigh. “And he is a most proper gentleman, with open and amiable manners.”
“Well, this is splendid, indeed!” Elizabeth said. “Has he been here long?”
“Only a few days.” Charlotte slowly turned to Elizabeth with a sly smile. “But I understand he plans to stay a full month, just as you are.”
“Does he indeed?” Elizabeth widened her eyes with a smile, which quickly disappeared in feigned disappointment. “But perhaps he is here for purposes other than to be admired by three young ladies, but rather by one particular lady.”
“Lizzy, whatever do you mean?”
“He may be here to secure Lady Catherine’s daughter’s hand in marriage. Perhaps he heard that she has been promised to her other cousin, Mr. Darcy, and he has come to convince her otherwise.”
“I truly do not believe that is the case.”
Elizabeth winked at Maria. “Are you certain he did not come to duel with Mr. Darcy over their cousin?”
“Oh, Lizzy, do be serious. He has not come to secure Miss de Bourgh’s hand in marriage. I doubt even Mr. Darcy intends to do that.”
“Do you, now?”
Charlotte bit her lip. “It pains me to speak thusly, but she hardly ever talks, choosing to spend her time doing her studies or some such thing in a journal she carries with her everywhere. I doubt she would meet Mr. Darcy’s rigorous expectations.”
“Could anyone?” Elizabeth asked with a laugh.
“That I cannot answer, but I am quite certain you will enjoy Mr. Rickland’s company.”
“I certainly hope so. Has he… has he come by frequently since arriving?”
Charlotte smiled. “Not at all, but knowing Lady Catherine, she must have discovered our guests had arrived and sent him over to extend a welcome.”
Elizabeth clasped her hands. “How kind of her!”
Charlotte chuckled. “Not so much kindness, but curiosity.” She gave Elizabeth a pointed look. “I would not be surprised if he has come with an invitation to Rosings. Lady Catherine has been most curious about the woman who brazenly turned down her clergyman’s offer of marriage.”
Elizabeth let out a groan. “Oh, Charlotte! Do you suppose she will whip me with forty lashes?”
The front door opened, and the women heard the men approaching as their voices and footsteps grew louder.
Charlotte took her friend’s hand and patted it. “No, Lizzy. Lady Catherine enjoys giving verbal lashings, instead.” She turned to the door. “Mr. Collins, I see we have another guest!”
“My dear Charlotte, Lady Catherine has condescended to have her nephew pay us a call!” He clasped his hands together and rocked back and forth on his heels as he said, “Is this not splendid?”
Matthew Rickland stepped in alongside the two men. He had a very pleasing countenance, a ready smile, and his overall appearance added greatly to his favour.
“Yes, Lady Catherine is very kind. Mr. Rickland, may I introduce my sister, Miss Maria Lucas and my good friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet?”
Mr. Rickland nodded his head with a slight bow to Maria, and then turned to Elizabeth and did the same. Elizabeth felt a slight flutter when his strikingly blue eyes met hers. His were deep set and seemed to dance as he spoke.
“Miss Lucas, Miss Bennet, it is my pleasure. I hope you had a pleasant journey.”
“We did, thank you,” Elizabeth said.
Charlotte looked from Elizabeth to Mr. Rickland. “We were about to have some refreshment, Mr. Rickland. Would you care to join us?”
“I have no pressing engagements. I would be delighted.”
Charlotte directed everyone to the drawing room, while she stayed back to give some instructions to her maid. Mr. Rickland took a seat next to Elizabeth.
She leaned forward, clasping her hands. “Mr. Rickland, I am eager to meet your aunt. I have heard from my friend and her husband just how attentive she is to their comfort.”
Mr. Rickland took in a deep breath and let it out with a soft chuckle. “Oh, yes, she is very attentive to nearly everyone… and their comfort.” He smiled and directed his glance towards Mr. and Mrs. Collins, who were still speaking with the servant. “I hope Mrs. Collins is not offended by my aunt’s…” He fisted his hand and brought it up to his lips, clearing his throat. “…excessive attention.”
Elizabeth smiled and was interrupted from responding as Charlotte walked over and sat down to join them.
“Mrs. Collins,” Mr. Rickland began, “my visit this afternoon is not merely to pay a call, but to extend an invitation from my aunt to you and your guests to dine with us tomorrow. We would be delighted if you would join us.”
Mr. Collins, who was standing at his wife’s side, gasped at the news and a broad smile matched his wide eyes. He briefly bowed his head as he said, “We are extremely obliged to you and Lady Catherine for such an honour.”
Mr. Rickland gave them the time they would be expected to dine. Elizabeth watched his face reflect amusement as Mr. Collins answered with endless prattle, extolling Lady Catherine’s goodness to his humble family.
When Mr. Collins finally seemed content that Lady Catherine’s nephew was assured of his gratitude, he ceased. His silence also coincided with the arrival of the refreshments, that were then served to everyone.
As they enjoyed the food and drink, their conversation covered a variety of subjects. Mr. Rickland told them that he had come to Rosings to discuss his modest estate with Lady Catherine’s steward. Elizabeth found Mr. Rickland to be intelligent but not boastful, humorous but not ridiculous, and very amiable and polite. In many ways he was quite the opposite of Lady Catherine’s other nephew.
As Charlotte and Elizabeth were conversing with Mr. Collins and Sir William, Mr. Rickland turned to Maria, who was sitting quietly across from them. “Tell me, Miss Lucas, have you ever been to Kent prior to this visit?”
Maria blushed and shook her head. Elizabeth, who would much rather have been conversing with him than Mr. Collins, turned and watched in admiration as Mr. Rickland engaged the young girl in conversation. Maria’s natural shyness prevented her from giving more than two-word answers, but Mr. Rickland persevered.
As the two conversed, Elizabeth appreciated him for being very patient with Maria and asking questions that she could readily answer without fear of saying something wrong.
She was lost in her thoughts when she realized Mr. Rickland had turned back to her, waiting for a response.
“And what is your opinion, Miss Bennet?”
Elizabeth felt a warmth flood her cheeks as she realized she had no idea of what they were now speaking. Or perhaps the blush was due to his smile, which she just noticed was slightly crooked, but seemed to touch every feature in his face.
“Pray forgive me, Mr. Rickland, but I was not following your conversation. What opinion did you wish to hear? I warn you, I have opinions enough for everyone in this room, and I am always willing to voice them!”
“I would be delighted to hear them all, but for now, we were discussing whether a natural landscaping is preferable to an artificially manicured setting.” He leaned in towards her. “Miss Lucas does not seem to have an inclination either way. Do you have a preference?”
“I do have a very strong opinion on the subject,” Elizabeth said with a smile. “I am more inclined to prefer a natural landscape. I have seen many a bush that looks nothing like its intended form because someone got carried away with pruning shears!”
Maria’s eyes widened, and she covered her open mouth with her hand, shaking her head as she did.
Mr. Rickland lowered his head. “Then I fear you will not approve of my aunt’s very meticulous gardening preferences. I was just telling Miss Lucas that Lady Catherine insists everything be pruned and clipped to her exact specifications. She thinks there is no finer garden than hers and does not take criticism lightly.” A smile betrayed his caution.
“I shall pay her the highest compliment for her garden, then, and you two shall be the only ones who know I am not speaking the truth.”
“Your secret is safe with me!” Mr. Rickland stood up and gave a quick bow to the two young ladies. “If you will excuse me, I fear I must return to Rosings. My aunt will send out the militia to look for me if I am not there to do her bidding when she has need of it.” He gave Charlotte a short bow. “Thank you for the tea and cake. I look forward to seeing all of you tomorrow.”
“We look forward to it, as well,” Charlotte said.
Mr. Collins took a step towards their guest. “Please convey to Lady Catherine how deeply humbled and honoured we are at her condescension. We cannot thank her enough for the invitation.”
Mr. Collins gave a deep bow, and Elizabeth did not miss the slight smirk on Mr. Rickland’s face.
He stepped out the door, with Mr. Collins and Sir William following on his heels. Elizabeth let out a long sigh. “Oh, Charlotte, Mr. Rickland is such a pleasant young man. I think I shall greatly enjoy my stay here!”
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt and I hope to post another along with the cover reveal some time in the new year with a more definite publication date. I will keep you posted.