Good Afternoon everyone,
“Oh really, Miss Mary!” He lowered his voice and leant closer. “Does convention hold you back? You who deny all conventions of time, twisting it from its proper course?”
Matrimony is not a destiny that attracts plain but clever Miss Mary Bennet.
With her family’s fortunes threatened by their own foolish mistakes, deceptive rogues and the inconvenience of male heirs to her family home, the future looks unstable, even bleak. But Mary possesses a secret weapon . . . a bonnet that allows her to travel in time.
In orchestrating events according to her own inclinations, Mary takes an unconventional route to protect her family from ruin. However, she is unprepared for the dark path down which duty and power will lead her.
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Excerpt from Volume One, Chapter Twelve – ‘Sermons & Scandals’
Mr Chamberlayne bowed. “Will you do me the honour?”
“Thank you,” I whispered, placing my hand in his. “It is most kind of you to ask me when there are so many other women to chuse from.”
“But, my dear, there is no other Miss Mary Bennet.”
As he led me down the dance, I made a small squeak, unable to hide my surprise.
“What is it? Did I tread on your toe?” he asked, before taking the hands of the lady next to me and turning about with her.
“My sister Lizzy,” I said, when he was opposite me once more. “She’s dancing with Mr Darcy.”
He squinted over at them. “What of it?”
To me, the look shared by Lizzy and Mr Darcy might either betray a mutual desire to partake in a duel or to make straight for Gretna Green. “She always said she would never dance with him.”
“Women are always changing their minds about one thing or another,” he said, rolling his eyes. “Not at all like men.”
I glared at him. “Lack of obstinacy is hardly a flaw. However, you won’t find me being so changeable.”
“Of course not,” he said, smile lines creasing at his eyes. “You never change anything, do you?”
I continued in conversation with him at supper and Charlotte came to sit opposite us.
“You surprise me, Miss Mary,” said Chamberlayne. He made to pour me wine but I placed my hand over the glass. “I thought you would be an advocate of Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas.”
“What I mean is that there are certain roles we adopt in society and certain boundaries within which we navigate that have been established for our own good and to ensure stability.”
“You just want to be careful that a boundary does not become a noose,” he said.
“Whatever do you . . .” my words trailed off as my attention was drawn to Mama who was toasting Jane’s good fortune with anyone who would clink glasses with her. Her boasts rang out across the room that Jane would soon be engaged to Mr Bingley and that this piece of good fortune would throw the rest of us into the way of other men of wealth. I clutched my cutlery, feeling the heat rise in my cheeks.
Chamberlayne glanced at her. “Can I serve you some chicken, Miss Mary?” he said, spearing a slice from the dish in front of him.
I ventured to look at Mr Bingley who, thankfully, appeared not to have heard Mama. Mr Darcy, on the other hand, was regarding her with an expression of unconcealed alarm. Lizzy, too, had gone quite red and even whispered to Mama in an attempt to prevent further inappropriate speeches of unfortunate volume.
I assumed that Lydia’s cheeks were merely rosy from the amount she had had to drink, rather than from any kind of embarrassment, for she chattered away merrily, holding out her glass to be refilled by an obliging officer.
“It is a most elegant room,” said Charlotte, taking in the high ceilings and fine windows. “Mr Bingley has found himself a most charming residence, do not you think?”
“Indeed,” said Chamberlayne, grasping the subject with enthusiasm. “Though I admire older buildings. Your house is Elizabethan, is it not, Mary?”
As I looked up from my plate, I realised that my friends were trying to draw me out of my mortification. “It is.”
“A manor built in the traditional E shape, for the queen,” said Charlotte.
“Indeed,” I said, “though I like to think of it as an M. It could be an M you know, if seen from another perspective.”
“How whimsical! Is that because of your own name?” asked Chamberlayne.
“No. You see, at the age of six, when a historical book taught me that Queen Elizabeth had had her cousin Mary executed, I considered that, from another angle, the E shape might look like an M. So, in my mind, our house has been M shaped from that time, in solidarity with the unfortunate queen who lost her liberty and her birthright, followed by her head, of course.”
Chamberlayne laughed. “She did try to have Elizabeth assassinated, though.”
When supper was cleared away and people began to get up from their seats and mingle about the room, Mr Bingley tapped his glass with a spoon.
“I should just like to thank you all, once again, for joining me at Netherfield this evening. I for one am having a most agreeable time.” A grin stretched across his face. “All there is left for me to wish for is a song. The pianoforte awaits! Whom can we persuade to sing for us?”
The gathering had quietened to listen to Mr Bingley and the muteness continued in the general tentativeness that is generally felt when no one wishes to push themselves forward as the focus of attention. In the lull, a twittering of laughter could be heard. I looked towards a door which must have led to the small room with the paintings. There was another burst of giggling but louder this time.
“Surely we can prevail upon somebody?” said Mr Bingley.
Miss Morris, a girl I did not know well, looked frantically about the room, then rushed over to open the door. The doorway framed the room inside like a theatre curtain drawn back to reveal a scene from a licentious play. Mr Denny sat in a too relaxed posture on the chaise longue and Lydia threw her arms about him and kissed him on the lips. Catching sight of their scandalised audience, Mr Denny moved Lydia aside.
“Miss Morris, allow me to explain. I did not know that Miss Lydia was about to—”
“We’re meant to be engaged!” wailed Miss Morris as she fled the room to the accompaniment of shocked gasps, piteous comments and accusations.
Mama had been struck into silence, which was quite something. Papa went white. Lizzy was crying with humiliation and Jane looked close to fainting when Miss Bingley swooped upon her saying, “You will get your family out of this house at once. At once, Miss Bennet.”
Through the doorway I could see the painting of the woman holding the bonnet and the other standing behind. It seemed almost as though they were looking at me, willing me to do something.
“We’re going.” Lizzy gripped my arm, frowning at me. “Mary, I do not see how you can be smiling at a time like this. We need to leave. Now.”
Tearing my gaze from the portrait, I looked at Lizzy. “I’ll get my bonnet.”
Jennifer Duke grew up in Basingstoke – a town in Hampshire, England, which Jane Austen visited for shopping and balls when her family lived in the nearby village of Steventon. Loving stories from a very early age and being the second of four sisters, Jennifer delighted in reading stories to her younger siblings.
She went to Bath Spa University to study English Literature with Creative Writing and gained a 2:1, later going on to achieve a distinction for her MA in English Literature at Oxford Brookes University.
She has had many jobs – including coffee barista, trainee English teacher, nursery nurse, nanny, housekeeper and dog walker – but kept returning to writing fiction.
A longstanding love of Jane Austen’s novels led to her first published novel Back to the Bonnet.
As well as writing, she is interested in mindfulness, environmental issues and painting. She loves animals, history, art, travel and being out in nature. Currently, she is working on a fantasy novel inspired by ancient art at Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave in the south of France, a story set 35,000 years ago – a slight change from Regency England! She also has plans to write a post world war two romance inspired by Jane Eyre.
Back to the Bonnet is available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle eBook formats.
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