Announcing Mr. Collins’ Will

by Renata McMann and Summer Hanford

Mr. Collins was a fool, yes, but not a fool who deserved to die.

Torn between anger with her cousin and remorse on his behalf, Miss Elizabeth Bennet must navigate the changes Mr. Collins’ demise brings to her family and sort out her feelings for both the charming Mr. Wickham and not-so-charming Mr. Darcy. In addition, she must discover the reasons behind a rash of anger directed her way. But most of all, she needs to learn what, if any, impact will befall her because of Mr. Collins’ Will.

Fitzwilliam Darcy knows he, his family, and his friends are all too good for the likes of the Bennets. Or are they? Decades old secrets and impulsive, and not so impulsive, proposals start reordering Darcy’s view of the world. Will he come to terms with what truly defines a person’s worth in time to claim the woman he loves, or lose her to a charming man seeking a fortune?

Mr. Collins’ Will is a Pride and Prejudice Variation of approximately 100,000 words.

Chapter One

The Netherfield ball, certain to be dubbed the event of the year in their corner of Hertfordshire, stuttered to a slow and agonizing end, none too soon for Elizabeth Bennet. More aggravated than tired, she climbed into the second of the carriages employed by the Bennet family that evening, along with her mother, youngest sister Lydia, and their cousin Mr. Collins. Seated beside her cousin, Elizabeth very much wished she’d squeezed into the first carriage with her father and other three sisters: Jane, Mary and Kitty. The way Mr. Collins gazed at her, his fawning expression illuminated by the lanterns lining Netherfield Park’s drive, turned Elizabeth’s stomach.

The carriage rolled forward, her mother’s voice filling the interior with a babbled recounting of all that had transpired that evening, as if no one else in the carriage had been present to observe the goings on. Fortunately, Elizabeth was so accustomed to Mrs. Bennet’s voice that she could readily ignore it in favor of the thoughts swirling in her head.

Much of the evening had been a disaster. The man Elizabeth had most wished to dance with, her new acquaintance Mr. Wickham, had made no appearance. Mr. Bingley had invited all the officers from the militia recently stationed in Meryton, and all but Mr. Wickham had come. He’d excused himself to London, with no real word of why or when he might return.

But Elizabeth knew why. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. That self-important gentleman despised Mr. Wickham to the point that he’d even denied the man a living left him by Mr. Darcy’s father, in some quibble over the exact wording of the will and in complete disregard to the deceased man’s wishes. Mr. Darcy treated Mr. Wickham with even more disdain than he showed the rest of those he felt beneath him, a designation he applied liberally in Hertfordshire insofar as Elizabeth could tell.

It was to avoid Mr. Darcy’s glowers that Mr. Wickham had remained away from the ball. Elizabeth, who fancied she could become smitten with the handsome and charming Mr. Wickham, had planned to converse and dance with him to an almost inappropriate extent. She greatly resented Mr. Darcy’s interference.

Perhaps worse, Mr. Darcy had danced with her, forcing conviviality for the object of her pique. A whole set, spent in mingled boredom and agony. They’d all but quarreled and had found no bridge for enjoyable conversation. At least Mr. Darcy cut a comely figure and danced well. She could say that for him.

Unlike Elizabeth’s cousin, who still gazed at her adoringly. Mr. Collins had danced with Elizabeth so poorly as to cause acute embarrassment and had then insisted on remaining by her side much of the evening. Adding to that her mother’s rant about Jane’s marital prospects with the host of the ball, Mr. Darcy’s friend Mr. Bingley, her sister Mary’s atrocious singing, Miss Bingley’s snide remarks, and Mr. Bennet’s choice to seek amusement rather than curtail any poor behavior by his family members, all meant Elizabeth had trouble finding much enjoyment in the evening. If not for some amusing exchanges with her dear friend Charlotte Lucas, and Mr. Darcy dancing well, not a single bright spot would exist in Elizabeth’s memory of the ball.

She let out a sigh as they continued to jounce down the long drive. They passed another lantern, the light once again illuminating Mr. Collins’ foolish, besotted look. Elizabeth angled firmly to stare out the window, even as they turned from Netherfield Park’s drive and onto the roadway, devoid of any light but the carriage lanterns. She didn’t care if she could see any of the scenery, so long as she didn’t have to witness her cousin’s stares. With her mother babbling on and the weight of Mr. Collins’ regard, Elizabeth deemed it a thoroughly miserable carriage ride.

Finally, they reached their own home of Longbourn, their drive noticeably shorter and less well-lit than Netherfield’s. The comparison aggravated Elizabeth as she recalled the horror on Mr. Darcy’s face when he contemplated the idea of her sister Jane wedding Mr. Bingley. Unfortunately, an equally infuriating disdain had contorted the features of Mr. Bingley’s sisters, Miss Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Hurst, at the notion. It seemed Jane’s cause would find no champions among Mr. Bingley’s friends and relations. With their wealth and connections, they thought themselves so above Elizabeth’s family, it was a wonder they could see Jane, they were forced to look so far down.

Elizabeth permitted a scowl, her face still averted from her companions. If the Bennets were crass and uncouth, Mr. Darcy, Miss Bingley, and Mrs. Hurst were equally ill mannered in their pomposity and condescension.

The carriage rolled to a halt before the front steps and Elizabeth realized that at some point during the drive, her mother had switched from chattering to sleeping. Lydia, the youngest of Elizabeth’s sisters at only fifteen, rested her head on their mother’s shoulder and snored. Mr. Bennet, Jane, Mary, and Kitty headed inside, their carriage having already arrived.

Elizabeth reached across the carriage to shake her sister’s shoulder. “Lydia, we’re home. Wake up.”

“Home?” Lydia mumbled with a yawn. She stretched, unwittingly punching their mother lightly on the shoulder.

“What?” Mrs. Bennet asked, head snapping up.

“I am so sorry to wake you both,” Mr. Collins said, though he hadn’t done so.

He turned to Elizabeth, his eyes wide and his face so foolish that she attempted to recall how much she’d seen him imbibe that evening. Of course, his face was normally somewhat foolish. Maybe it took little alcohol to exaggerate that.

In what she assumed he meant to be sotto voce, he continued, “With them both asleep, you do realize we were hardly chaperoned?” He offered a grin, lopsided with drunkenness rather than intent.

Lydia giggled, her amusement breaking off into another yawn.

The door beside Mr. Collins opened and one of their footmen, Edward, handed Mrs. Bennet down. Lydia scrambled out after her, snickering. Mr. Collins, seated between Elizabeth and the waiting footman, accepted Edward’s assistance next, and would have tumbled face first into the yard without the footman’s strong arm. Shaking off the footman’s support, Mr. Collins turned back, swaying, and extended a hand to Elizabeth.

“I do apologize for disembarking before you, dear cousin,” he said as she reluctantly placed a gloved hand in his. Locking eyes with her, he squeezed her hand.

Elizabeth stepped free of the carriage, rented for the occasion to augment the family’s single conveyance, and yanked her hand from Mr. Collins’ over-tight clasp. “I fail to see how you could have done otherwise, sir.” She nearly added, ‘without me climbing over you’ but the disturbing heat in his gaze curtailed the words.

She hurried to come abreast of her youngest sister and mother, where the latter leaned on the arm of the former. Edward, Elizabeth suspected, would trail behind to ensure Mr. Collins didn’t end up an ignominious heap in the yard. Elizabeth wished the footman were less conscientious.

“Lydia, you’ll see me up, won’t you?” Mrs. Bennet asked. “I’m too tired for the stairs on my own. Oh, what an evening, but it has left me exhausted. What dreams I shall have. Mr. Bingley and Jane wedded. What a fine evening.”

“Yes, Mama,” Lydia said, for once too exhausted for more than simple compliance.

All her sisters except Jane were tired, Elizabeth realized as she joined them in the entrance hall. Lost in a world of her own, if Jane’s dreamy expression were any clue, she seemed blind to the rest of them as she tugged off her gloves, pulling on one finger at a time. Elizabeth smiled, some of her ire over the events of the evening dispersing in the glow of Jane’s happiness.

“Mr. Bennet, a word,” Mr. Collins called as he stumbled through the front door.

Mr. Bennet, who’d been about to head up for the night, turned back. Kitty and Mary skirted him and went up the stairs, Jane following.

“Yes, Mr. Collins?” Mr. Bennet asked and stepped aside to make room for Mrs. Bennet and Lydia to pass.

Elizabeth wished she could join her mother and sisters, but she had a horrible suspicion what Mr. Collins might ask her father and wanted to be there to put a swift end to any such talk. Edward came in behind Mr. Collins and quietly closed the door.

Mr. Collins, who’d been staring at Elizabeth again with that obnoxious smitten look, tipped his head up and sniffed. He sniffed again and scowled. “Wasteful.”

Elizabeth blinked. That was not what she’d expected her cousin to say.

“What is wasteful?” Mr. Bennet asked.

Mr. Collins swiveled around to point at Edward. “He had a fire in the fireplace.” Mr. Collins barreled up to Elizabeth, who adroitly stepped aside, and then passed her, into the front parlor. “This room is too warm,” he cried. “Do you see this, Mr. Bennet? Servants should not waste valuable firewood.”

Elizabeth’s father cast her an amused look. “It’s not wasted. I appreciate coming home to a house that is warmer than the outside.”

“But there are coals in the fireplace,” Mr. Collins called from inside the parlor. A glance showed that he’d fallen to his knees before the grate. “At the very least, they should be taken to someone’s bed chamber.”

 “We’re all too tired for that,” Mr. Bennet said. “I’ll be in bed, asleep, before any coals would have the time to heat my room. I daresay my lady wife and daughters will be as well.”

“A waste,” Mr. Collins muttered at the coals. “Squandering. Lady Catherine would not approve. Not at all.”

“Sir?” Edward asked, worried.

Mr. Bennet shook his head. “Don’t give it another thought, Edward. You’ve every right to be warm.”

“Should I see Mr. Collins to bed, sir?”

Expression amused, Mr. Bennet shrugged. “You may make the attempt, but I suspect he’ll only argue with you. It was good of you to wait up. The warm entrance hall is appreciated.”

“Thank you, sir.” Edward bowed and went into the parlor. “Mr. Collins, do you require any assistance, sir?”

“Shall we?” Mr. Bennet asked Elizabeth, gesturing to the staircase as Mr. Collins voice rose in slurred command.

She nodded and headed up the steps at her father’s side.

In a quiet, kind voice, he said, “Do not worry. I know you don’t want to marry Mr. Collins and I won’t push you to do so. Your mother will try to, but I want you to be happy.”

Relief washed through her. In an equally quiet voice, she replied, “I’ve been trying to keep him from proposing.”

Below, Mr. Collins’ voice cried, “So wasteful. When I’m master here, things like this will not be permitted.”

“I don’t think a herd of horses could prevent your cousin from asking for your hand,” Mr. Bennet said, full of mischief. “Your Uncle Phillips took me aside this evening to tell me that Mr. Collins commissioned his help to write a will in your favor. Mr. Collins is convinced you will marry him.”

Elizabeth pursed her lips. “It is unfortunate that he will have to write another will soon.”

Edward’s voice carried from below saying, “Mr. Collins, let me help you. I don’t think the shovel is the best tool to carry hot coals.”

“I can do it,” Mr. Collins said with petulant impatience.

They reached the top hall and Elizabeth turned to go to her room, hoping Mr. Collins would give up conserving coals and go to sleep so she didn’t have to hear his voice anymore that evening.

A loud thump sounded below, accompanied by banging and the clatter of smaller items.

Elizabeth turned back to find her father had, as well. They faced each other across the head of the staircase, uncertain. She opened her mouth to suggest they go back down. Poor Edward shouldn’t be forced to deal with a completely unreasonable Mr. Collins alone.

“Fire,” Edward cried.

“Get water,” Mr. Collins yelled.

“Papa?” Elizabeth gasped.

“I’m sure it will be quickly extinguished, but I’ll get your mother and sisters. You get the servants. I want everyone outside where it’s safe.”

“Mr. Collins, sir, please, stop that. It won’t work,” Edward pleaded below.

“I said get water,” Mr. Collins bellowed.

“Go,” her father ordered.

Worried, Elizabeth grabbed handfuls of her skirt to free up her legs and raced down the hall to the servants’ stair. She looked back once to see her father at her mother’s door. Elizabeth plunged into the dark stairwell, heading upward. Their servants slept under the eaves, above the family’s rooms. A terrible place to be caught if the fire did get out of control.

Stumbling in the low, pitch black attic hall, Elizabeth called, “Wake up. Wake up. There’s a fire. Come out.” She found the first door and opened it. This was not the time for politeness or respect for privacy. “Fire,” she yelled. “Grab something warm but don’t take the time to dress.”

“Do I have time to take my things?” the voice of Betty, one of the maids, asked. There came a clatter and a spark, and a flame bloomed into life at the top of a stub of a candle.

“Not more than two minutes,” Elizabeth guessed. “Hurry, we must rouse the others.”

Betty rushed to the doorway and yelled ‘fire’ several times, louder than Elizabeth had. She pressed the candle into Elizabeth’s hand as one of the footmen came out of his room, then Betty went back in to pull the blanket off her bed. She started throwing shoes and clothing onto the blanket.

Servants spilled from the little rooms, too fast for Elizabeth to be certain she spotted everyone. Betty rushed down the steps with her makeshift bag. Candle in hand, Elizabeth checked each room. Everyone was moving except one of the kitchen maids, who somehow still slept.

Elizabeth went in and shook the girl, who finally blinked her eyes open.

“Fire. Get up.”

“Fire?” the girl slurred, alcohol on her breath.

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. The cook must have left the sherry out again, and with the family at the ball, it would have been too tempting. “Fire,” Elizabeth reiterated.

With a startled squeak, the maid sat up and jumped from bed. She bolted past Elizabeth without taking anything with her.

Satisfied all the servants’ rooms were empty, Elizabeth rushed back down the narrow steps to the family’s floor. The doors she could see stood open. Thick smoke flowing up the staircase cut off any view of the other half of the upper corridor, where her and Jane’s room stood. Surely, though, her father had finished the task of ordering her mother and sisters out.

Elizabeth plunged back into the servants’ stairwell to follow the staff down. She nearly tripped and tumbled down the steps as something brushed against her legs. Catching the wall with her free hand, she spotted the kitchen’s tabby cat and scooped it up. Clutching the cat close, she clattered down the steps. They came out in the kitchen, the large pots scattered and water sloshed on the floor. The servants she’d roused were already pressing through the garden door, out into the night. Elizabeth followed, then rushed around the outside of the house, needing to see her family.

She rounded the building to find her parents and sisters all standing before the house, staring at flames that filled the front entrance and windows. Elizabeth gasped, staggering to a halt. She dropped the struggling tabby, then fell to her knees in the drive, too relieved and horrified to move.

Her father held his cashbox with a pile of ledgers at his feet. Beside him, Lydia, tears streaming down her cheeks, held a heap of clothing topped with ribbons and hats, and beyond her Mary clutched a jumble of sheet music, books and garments. Kitty and Jane knelt on the ground on either side of Mrs. Bennet, who seemed to have collapsed, gowns in heaps around them. Mr. Collins was nowhere to be seen.

“Elizabeth?” her father called. “The staff?”

Elizabeth struggled up to stand. She stumbled as she crossed the drive, unable to tear her attention from the malevolently glowing, violently thrashing flames to watch where she placed her feet. When she reached her family, Lydia let out a sob, dropped her gowns, ribbons and hats, and threw her arms about Elizabeth.

“The staff?” Mr. Bennet repeated urgently.

“They’re out of the attic. I think they all made it except…” Elizabeth trailed off, watching the flames. “Is Edward in there?”

Mr. Bennet shook his head, grim. The servants Elizabeth had roused trickled around the side of the building. Some came to stand with the family, others rushing about, looking for buckets. Elizabeth bit her lip, unable to voice her worry for Edward and Mr. Collins. She stroked Lydia’s hair. Her youngest sister continued to cry.

Edward stumbled around the corner of the house, soot coated, his eyes wide and over white against the charcoal smeared on his face. Sighting them, he rushed across the yard. “Did he ever come out? Mr. Collins, sir, did he ever come out?”

Mr. Bennet shook his head. “What happened?”

“I tried to stop him. I truly did, but he put the coals on a shovel and was going to carry them to his room. Then he fell and coals went everywhere. He started using a cushion to smother the fire. He moved to another coal and did it again, only the first coal flared up again and caught the carpet. I ran to get water again and again, Mr. Bennet. He kept trying to smother them, but neither of us realized that there was a coal near the curtains.” Edward let out a sob. “We might have been able to put that one out, but there were so many small fires as well. I tried to drag him out of the parlor, but he wouldn’t come with me. He kept apologizing and saying he wouldn’t let the house burn down.” Edward twisted his hands together, knuckles so white it showed through the soot. “I tried to get him to come with me, Mr. Bennet. I tried until I could hardly breathe, but he wouldn’t come.” Tears cut clear tracks down Edward’s cheeks.

“You aren’t to blame, Edward.”

“If only I hadn’t had a fire,” Edward moaned, wringing his hands harder.

“You aren’t to blame, Edward,” Elizabeth repeated firmly.

“Our fool of a cousin is,” Mary added, blinking rapidly.

Mr. Bennet drafted Edward to carry his ledgers and went to the cluster of servants to make sure everyone got out. Sir William Lucas arrived, along with his older two sons. Mr. Bennet went to meet them, still clutching his cashbox.

Mr. Bennet and Sir William organized a brigade to bring buckets of water from the back well to the front of the house. More neighbors arrived. Elizabeth wrapped her mother in a shawl from her pile of clothing, then led her to one of the benches in the rose garden. When her mother was settled, Elizabeth joined Jane and Mary in the bucket line, but it became increasingly obvious that the house would not survive. Soon, the fire was too hot to get near enough for the water to be effective. The bucket brigade became an attempt to keep the fire from spreading.

It was still dark when they gave up. Mr. Bennet sat next to Mrs. Bennet with his cashbox by his side and his most current ledger in his lap. Using the light from a lantern brought by a neighbor to see, he paid each member of the household staff their full quarter’s wages, recording it with a pencil that had been stuck in one of the ledgers. It was a month early, but he added enough money for them to spend a night in the inn in Meryton and get a meal. Probably none would go there, since most had family in the area and others would be taken in for a few days by local people, but he wanted to be sure they all had somewhere to go. Mr. Bennet assured the coachmen, grooms, and farm workers that their work would go on unchanged, as none of the outbuildings had caught fire.

Elizabeth watched the staff take the money with tears in their eyes. They knew as well as her father that he wouldn’t be able to hire them all back for some time, if ever.

By dawn, nothing remained of Elizabeth’s home but a charred, crumpled shell. The Lucas carriage arrived and took her mother and three youngest sisters to their Aunt and Uncle Phillips, in Meryton. Mr. Bennet, Jane and Elizabeth walked the short distance to Lucas Lodge. As she’d been unable to save any of her possessions, Elizabeth took half of Jane’s load. A miserable, soot coated Edward sniffled as he carried Mr. Bennet’s account books but answered in the affirmative when Elizabeth asked him if he would be staying with his parents.

When they came in sight of Lucas Lodge, Elizabeth looked back, expecting to see smoke with the early morning light, but there was none. Whatever whisps were left weren’t visible, although everything smelled of soot and fire. Her hands felt as if they were made of ice, but the remainder of her was numb.

“Poor Mr. Collins,” Jane murmured as they reached the entrance.

Elizabeth nodded, the movement shaky. He’d never come out. The last anyone had seen or heard of him was his apology to Edward. Much as she didn’t care for her cousin, tears slid down Elizabeth’s cheeks. Mr. Collins was a fool, yes, but not a fool who’d deserved to die.

Was Bingley a Substitute for Wickham?

Was Bingley a Substitute for Wickham?

Two of Darcy’s friends were Wickham and Bingley. It is interesting to compare them. Jane Austen’s early description of Bingley said, “Mr. Bingley was good looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners.” Wickham is initially described as having a “most gentlemanlike appearance.” Elizabeth tells her aunt he is “beyond all comparison, the most agreeable man I ever saw.” Even Darcy describes him as being “blessed with such happy manners as may ensure his making friends — whether he may be equally capable of retaining them, is less certain.”

The second part of Darcy’s comment is certainly negative, but it is likely based on Wickham as an adult, not a child. It is suggested that Darcy remained on good terms with his childhood friend when they were both children. But Darcy said of Bingley, “I had often seen him in love before.” It isn’t an extremely negative comment, but it certainly isn’t a positive one.

There is a subtler similarity between Wickham and Bingley. Both wanted to be a gentleman. Bingley had the education to be considered a gentleman and the money to buy an estate which would make him a landed gentleman. Wickham could pass for a gentleman but had no realistic chance of becoming one.

Whenever I have wondered if something in Jane Austen’s works is coincidental, I remember this is Jane Austen. She could hit you with a sledgehammer with characters like Mr. Collins or brush you with a feather by making Mr. Bennet, with all his flaws, into a character that most people like.

Was Bingley a substitute for Wickham? Colonel Fitzwilliam felt that Darcy took care of Bingley by saving him from a “most imprudent marriage.” Was Darcy’s care of Bingley based partially on the feeling that, somehow, he failed with Wickham but would not fail Bingley? Only Jane Austen knew, and she is unavailable.

Advertisement time: (This is more hitting with a sledgehammer than brushing with a feather, but I don’t expect to fool anyone, so why not admit it.)

Advertisement number 1: Our next book will be Mr. Collins’ Will. We have not yet written the blurb for the book, but Mr. Collins dies in a fire, and it is believed he willed his property to Elizabeth, thinking she would marry him. If the will was destroyed in the fire, it doesn’t matter. But was it destroyed?

Advertisement number 2: Summer Hanford and I think the best book we have published is More Than He Seems which gives an alternate view of Wickham. This review suggests that we succeeded in making that plausible. If you think I have been too careful in selecting reviews, read more of them here.

When Does a Story Begin?

When Does a Story Begin?

Summer Hanford and I will soon be publishing More Than He Seems, which is a story about Mr. Wickham, who is the hero in our book, not a villain. Wickham’s story is essentially true to Pride and Prejudice but there are justifications for his actions which don’t contradict the plot of Pride and Prejudice. Since Wickham’s relationship with Darcy is an important part of the story, we could hardly start the story with Wickham’s appearance in Pride and Prejudice. Wickham doesn’t appear until after more than thirty percent of the novel, and most of the Wickham/Darcy relationship took place before the novel started.

So where should the story begin? Hamlet is an example of a story where the starting place might not be considered the logical one, although, of course, being written by Shakespeare, it was the right place to start for his story. An extremely simplified summary of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is that Hamlet receives some evidence that Claudius murdered Hamlet’s father.[i] Hamlet spends most of the play trying to confirm the story and it goes badly. The play doesn’t start with Claudius murdering Hamlet’s father, because that is not the story that is being told. The story isn’t about the murder, but about Hamlet deciding whether it was a murder, along with Claudius trying to thwart him.

Darcy says Wickham went to Cambridge. It is likely Darcy did also. We assume they were roommates. We also assume that this is where Wickham’s life takes a very different direction.


Chapter One

The pub to which I’d been directed was a little too far from the college for Cambridge students to frequent. I didn’t mind the long walk and appreciated the anonymity the removed location gave me. It would be unfortunate if word got back to Darcy, or anyone else at university, that I’d been seen with the gentleman who’d asked to meet me.

I’d dressed carefully, deliberately looking just a little shabby. Although I boxed reasonably well, fenced better than most, and carried a pistol I knew how to use, I had no illusions those skills made me safe in the neighborhood in which my destination stood, huddled among other slightly disreputable, dilapidated establishments. Out front, I paused to take in peeling paint, a sign faded into illegibility, and two cracked stone steps leading to the door. I drew a steadying breath and headed in.

It took me a moment to pick out the man who’d asked me there. He’d swapped his regimentals for the garb of a workman. Dirt stained both hands and face. He sat alone, appearing to brood over a pint. I appreciated his care. I didn’t want to be remembered. No one liked a snitch. I had become one.

I strode over and straddled the bench across the table from him saying, “There you are,” as if we’d planned to meet, which we had.

Richard Fitzwilliam looked up from his pint to meet my gaze with hard, piercing eyes. “You’re early.”

“So you are,” I pointed out.

He nodded and fished in his pocket to pull out a dirt stained, ragged looking page of a newspaper, folded into an envelope. He pushed it across the table. Movements casual, as if nothing of much importance rested inside, I picked it up. The bills concealed by that much abused page felt crisp and new through the worn paper. Trusting Fitzwilliam enough not to count, I slid the enveloped into my coat pocket, not wanting to call attention to it.

Once my payment was out of sight, I waved over a serving girl and ordered a pint. After all, it would look suspicious to immediately get up and leave. As she walked away, I turned back to the colonel. “Thank you.”

He took a sip from his tankard. “It should likely be the other way around.”

I shrugged. Part of me felt good about what I’d done. Deserving of thanks. Part of me didn’t.

He kept his gaze on me. His eyes seemed to see right into me and read my soul. “I need to speak with you about your expenses.”

“You didn’t pay me what we agreed?” I said, chagrinned. I should have counted, calling attention to the bills be damned. If anything, I’d saved money for my King and Country. The serving girl returned to thunk a tankard down before me, but I didn’t look up at her. To have my compensation docked stung.

Before I could, Fitzwilliam fished out a few coins for the girl, waiting until she departed again to say, “No, I did not pay what we agreed. I added a bit. The expenses you reported weren’t enough. You must have spent more to gain Lenox’s trust.”

Fitzwilliam thought I deserved more? I savored the feeling, permitting a grin. “I didn’t spend more. I won.”

“You won?” the colonel said incredulously. “Your instructions were to lose.”

I took a swig of what proved to be very bitter ale. “I got the information. What do you care how I did it?”

“But…” Fitzwilliam paused, expression a touch baffled. “How did you do it?”

Around us, the noise picked up. The workday had ended. More and more laborers and tradesmen filed into the pub by the moment, the air growing thick with their sweat. “By essentially breaking even.”

“Breaking even?” Fitzwilliam prompted.

I couldn’t help it. My grin grew a bit smug. “Well, actually, I came out ahead by three shillings but that’s after, what, seven months?” I leaned forward, casting off my moment of satisfaction at confounding Fitzwilliam for a more serious tone. “Lenox isn’t an utter fool. He suspects people who lose too much to him.”

Fitzwilliam nodded, a gleam of respect in his eyes.

I shrugged, ready to grin again. “Besides, you did overpay. I didn’t subtract the three shillings from my total.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam offered me an amused look. “Consider it an addition to your bonus.”

I snorted. “A real bonus would be compensation for the money I could have won but made sure not to during that time.”

Again, a gratifyingly surprised look crossed his face. “You keep track?”

“Of course, I keep track. I may not be as good a student as Darcy, but I know how to write down expenses and add them up.”

“Yes, you were given, and are still getting, a good education.” Fitzwilliam saluted me with his tankard. “And you did an excellent job.”

I offered another shrug. I’d enjoyed his honest surprise more than his platitude. “So, what will you do with the information? Or will I never know?” I was aware that I might never find out. I’d known that going in. I wouldn’t have asked, except that I had mixed feelings about what I’d done. I’d earned a man’s trust and then betrayed it.

Yet, Lenox was selling valuable information. Information he managed to get from his father, a vice admiral who was far too trusting of his eldest son. That information was reaching Napoleon. Essentially, Lenox profited from spying. By however roundabout a route, the man was a traitor.

A ghost of a smile crossed Fitzwilliam’s face. “You’ll know. Just read tomorrow’s paper.” He saluted me again with his tankard. “England owes you, and hardly anyone knows it. Thank you.” Eyes suddenly deadly serious, he added, “You’ve saved a lot of lives today, Wickham.”

“I hope so. I’ve certainly hampered mine.” For one thing, I’d nearly lost my dearest friend.

“Darcy will recover,” Fitzwilliam said, following my thoughts again.

“Will he?” As Colonel Fitzwilliam was Darcy’s cousin, he knew as well as I how stubborn Darcy could be.

Doubt overshadowed the colonel’s features. “I’m sorry it came to this, but we’d tried other ways and failed. You don’t discharge a vice admiral lightly. Especially not during a war. We had to be certain.”

“I understand.” And I did. I only wished Darcy could.

“You really have saved lives. The lives of good men. Sailors. Countrymen. You should be proud of the service you’ve rendered.”

I was proud. The sour ale and the colonel’s praise warmed me as I made the walk back to the room I shared with Darcy, every sense on high alert on the shadow-cloaked streets. Not only was the neighborhood I hurried from more dangerous at night, I now carried a tidy sum. I didn’t fancy parting with my hard-earned money.

I entered to find Darcy at the table, working with his usual diligence. His valet, Jackson, was nowhere in evidence, likely sent away as Darcy pursued his studies. I suppressed a sigh on Darcy’s behalf. He needed to read everything three times to my one to commit details to memory. Accepting a lower score would open up hours of his time. Perhaps even permit a whole new world for him. But his Darcy-pride wouldn’t permit anything less than top marks. Certainly, not anything less than I scored.

He looked up to watch me enter, frowning as I removed my shabbiest coat. “You missed the lecture on the Battle of Thermopylae.”

“The Greeks were outnumbered and lost. It took a while,” I said flippantly, tugging at my cravat.

Ever the worrier, he retorted with, “Where have you been?”

“Sampling a different pub,” I said with partial truth. I sought about for more, decided on two additional, unrelated truths that would stave off further questions. “The barmaids weren’t pretty. I doubt I’ll go back.”

Darcy’s frown deepened. “There are times you disgust me, Wickham.”

He used to call me George, and I called him Fitz, which was short for Fitzwilliam. It pained me that, over the course of my investigation of Lenox, we’d gone from Fitz and George to Darcy and Wickham. I hoped that someday, Colonel Fitzwilliam would be able to explain to Darcy what my King and Country had asked of me, but I didn’t count on it.

Trying not to permit regret into my tone, I adopted a nonchalance and sallied back, “I guess I’ll just have to live with that, Darcy.”

Scowl firmly in place, he returned his attention to the book before him, muttering, “I don’t know why I put up with you.”

As I didn’t either, I refrained from a reply. I’d taken up with several unsavory fellows as part of my task in gaining Lenox’s trust, and frequented the sort of gaming hells and brothels that I knew turned Darcy’s stomach. For over seven months, I’d come back to the room we shared reeking of tobacco smoke and pungent cologne. If I’d have wagered on how long Darcy would have put up with such behavior, I would have lost. I almost resented that he hadn’t kicked me out. His continued loyalty only made our estrangement feel worse.

But my time as a reprobate was over. Lenox was found out. Whatever Colonel Fitzwilliam and his superiors meant to do, my part was finished. I rolled up my shirt sleeves and pulled out the chair across the table from Darcy. Aware it would also help him learn faster, I asked, “Tell me about the Battle of Thermopylae.”

He raised a mulish expression from his book. For a moment, I thought he wouldn’t comply. But Darcy never could resist giving a good lecture, especially one that promised a discussion at the end. He started the tale, consulting his journal to add in salient points our professor had raised. Darcy always kept a journal, detailing events of interest from the day. At least, that’s what I assumed he wrote. Despite what he might think of me, or how I’d acted to help Colonel Fitzwilliam, I would never violate Darcy’s trust by reading his private musings.

By the time he finished recounting the details of the Battle of Thermopylae, I could tell he’d at least somewhat forgiven me. In gratitude, I obliged him by playing the foil to his views as we went back over the lecture. One thing Darcy loved, even when he was happy with me, was for us to argue. I was one of the few people in his life who wasn’t too daunted by him to do so. For that reason, if none other, he would always forgive me. If Darcy and I weren’t speaking, who would he have to disagree with him?

The next day, when Darcy got the paper, I couldn’t miss the frontpage news. Lenox’s father had resigned his post as vice admiral for reasons of ill health. Darcy, coffee service at his elbow and paper raised in front of his face, didn’t see my grin.

Partly born of my success, my expression also reflected relief. Now, things could go back to normal. Darcy would eventually forgive me for my stint as a miscreant. Perhaps, in time, Colonel Fitzwilliam would even decide my deed no longer needed to be kept secret. I enjoyed picturing the look on Darcy’s face when I explained it all to him.



[i] “My name is Inigo Montoya. [Batman, Hamlet] You killed my father. Prepare to die.”


Wickham, a Hero?

Wickham, a Hero?

We will soon be publishing More Than He Seems. It is a novel that does not change the essential plot of Pride and Prejudice but makes Mr. Wickham a hero. It wasn’t easy. One of the hardest things to do was to explain Georgiana’s near elopement with Mr. Wickham. The answer was surprisingly simple. Georgiana lied and Mrs. Younge supported her lie. The difficulty was to find a justification both for the lie and for Mrs. Younge’s support. We gave one reason for Georgiana to lie and a different reason for Mrs. Younge to support the lie. The real question is, what were those reasons and why didn’t Wickham explain everything to Darcy?

This part of More Than He Seems has a difference from Pride and Prejudice that probably could be eliminated, but we went for drama over adherence to the source. Darcy mentions in his letter to Elizabeth that the elopement was planned to take place within a day or two. We changed it to be within minutes. Also, Darcy said he wrote to Wickham after he found out about the planned elopement. We had Darcy confront Wickham. Again, Wickham receiving a letter isn’t as dramatic as having the two men face each other.

I must admit that I would very much like to see what Darcy wrote to Wickham. Did he simply tell Wickham to go away? Did he offer money for Wickham’s silence on the projected elopement? There is no mention of Wickham replying to Darcy’s letter, which makes an offer of money less likely. If I were Darcy, and I wanted Wickham’s absence, I wouldn’t have written a letter. I would have packed up everyone and left. Let Wickham come to a vacant house and wonder what happened. But that’s not the story we wrote.

Love, Letters and Lies

“Love, Letters and Lies: A Pride and Prejudice Variation” started with a premise that Elizabeth would take extraordinary steps to avoid marrying Mr. Darcy. They end up locked in a room together at Netherfield Park. Darcy is not really all that upset at being forced to marry Elizabeth, but she takes down the curtains, fashions a rope and climbs out the window. This, needless to say, banishes all thoughts from Mr. Darcy’s mind that she is trying to attract him.

I wanted Elizabeth to be brave but not reckless. Thus, I had her climb out of what in America is called the second floor, but in England is the first floor. To avoid confusion, I had to make it clear without it being awkward. I solved that problem by never using “first floor” or “second floor.” I wrote that it was one floor up.

Serendipitous Details

I met Summer Hanford in an online writing class, where the teacher had a master’s degree in creative writing. The teacher described writing a novel as driving with headlights. You could see enough to drive but not much more. Presumably, you knew your goal. Because students could only turn in a limited amount of material, the class encouraged writing roughly a chapter at a time.

There is another philosophy of writing. The writer creates an outline and then follows it. I am a driving-with-headlights writer. Summer is an outline writer. In essence, I give her a detailed outline, which I have achieved without an outline. A twenty thousand word “outline” for a sixty-thousand-word novel is sufficiently detailed, isn’t it? 😊

One of the results of the way I write is that I frequently go back and change things. I decide I want something to happen, so I go back to foreshadow it. Alternatively, I could be originally thinking of going a certain direction, decide not to, but must go back and take out the foreshadowing.

But sometimes things work in another direction. I will put something in and find I can use it. In one case, a character was given a surname of Green. I put something in about green referring to inexperienced or young. I’m sure readers would assume I named the character for that reason, but it happened the other way around.

Yesterday I was working on a novel that is a Pride and Prejudice variation. There is an extremely minor character in Pride and Prejudice named Mrs. Annesley who was Georgiana Darcy’s companion. I didn’t want her in a scene, mainly because a character who is in a scene and contributes nothing makes the scene more complicated to write. Yes, sometimes I’m lazy.

Using the excuse that the carriage taking four people was full, I unkindly left her behind. But Miss Bingley returned early and ended up having a conversation with Mrs. Annesley. I needed that conversation to make Miss Bingley approach something sensibly. Suddenly, I realized here was a character I could use.

I still don’t know how I’m going to use her, but I’m leaning toward pairing her with Colonel Fitzwilliam. But by staying in the background, she achieved a role of a character having at least two scenes. As a fan of Jane Austen, I appreciate the irony.

Courting Elizabeth

When I was writing Courting Elizabeth: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, I created a character whose existence is implied in Pride & Prejudice, Colonel Fitzwilliam’s older brother. I called him Lord Henry. Sadly, I got the title wrong and should have called him Lord Matlock. (I could claim that he was the Earl of Henry, but I don’t think anyone would believe me.)

Lord Henry evolved as I wrote him. I originally intended for him to die. I then started liking him so much that I couldn’t do that. I went back, changed a couple of very minor things intended to foreshadow his death and left him in. The reviewers made me glad of my decision. Lord Henry received more positive comments than any character I’ve ever created.

Entanglements of Honor

When I worked out the basic plot for “Entanglements of Honor: A Pride and Prejudice Variation,” I wanted to go with a variation of the standard compromise situation. Rather than having Darcy compromise Elizabeth, I wanted Darcy to compromise Jane, and Bingley to compromise Elizabeth. Then I would have them switch.

The problem was finding a single event that would cause this. I didn’t want one couple in a snowstorm in a cottage and the other couple accidentally locked in a room. I came up with Miss Bingley arranging for a large fire to be lit in an unoccupied room, when she was unaware the damper was closed. This gave people reason to believe there was a fire when there wasn’t. (Well, actually, there was a fire, but it was safely in the fireplace.) It also had the advantage of making Miss Bingley unhappy, because she caused two marriages to take place that she definitely did not want to happen.

I enjoy making Miss Bingley unhappy.

A Friendly Warning about A Dollop of Pride and a Dash of Prejudice

Two years ago, almost everyone I knew was computer literate. Now that I’ve moved into a retirement community, many people I know aren’t. Summer and I wish to have our stories available to all readers, and that includes people who cannot or will not read an eBook. Many people love the feel of a book. I can hardly blame them. For me, physical books are associated with many pleasant hours of reading.

Cost, the ability to enlarge the type, and lack of storage space has turned me into a fan of eBooks, but others haven’t made the shift. Perhaps they have better eyesight, more space or more money to allocate to books. Whatever their reason for enjoying print books over eBooks, we’ve taken this opportunity to make four of our short works, previously available only as eBooks because they’re simply not long enough to turn into print books, and put them in a single paper book. There is nothing in the paper books that isn’t in the four, previously published eBooks. We’ve also turned the collection into an eBook because it is very easy to do.

Although we love for people to buy our books, the one thing we don’t want to happen is for people to buy A Dollop of Pride and a Dash of Prejudice thinking it is something new. Consequently, Summer made the cover of A Dollop of Pride and a Dash of Prejudice with the original covers from the stories contained within.

Three of the books can be read using Kindle Unlimited. Those are:

Epiphany with Tea: A Pride and Prejudice Variation

Miss Bingley’s Christmas: A Pride and Prejudice Variation

 Their Secret Love: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novelette

The fourth book, From Ashes to Heiresses: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, can be read for free by going to www.renatamcmann.com

– Renata McMann

Version Control in Writing

Summer Hanford and I work together, but in a way, we work separately. We don’t work in the same room or even in the same state. Most of our discussions are by email. We’ve only physically met twice, and the first meeting was after we started working together and long after we became friends.

When many people work on a software program, which is normal in the business world, there must be some way of seeing that it all fits together at the end. Version control in computer programs is more important than in writing. There are even software programs to help. Wikipedia lists 38 of them. A program with many authors who do not coordinate properly will be very unlikely to do what it is supposed to do. It may not even run.

A book can be written by two writers who do not use any version control, but it may not make sense. If I foreshadow something in chapter two and Summer decides to eliminate it in chapter ten, the work will not be as coherent. To get to the ridiculous, if one of us decides to change the name of a character, that name change must take place everywhere in the book. We changed the name of a character in The Widow Elizabeth. It happens.

Summer and I use a very simple system. Only one of us can edit a particular story. Right now, she has Hypothetically Married. That, by the way, is probably the final title of our next publication. In Hypothetically Married, Elizabeth and Darcy frequently have hypothetical discussions, which often lead to somebody getting married, which explains the title.

Summer hasn’t, as I write this, started working on Hypothetically Married. She is writing another Regency Romance, the sequel to The Archaeologist’s Daughter, in Scarsdale Publishing’s Under the Shadow of the Marquess Series. Nevertheless, I should not, by our method of working, make any changes to Hypothetically Married without first telling her.

I have my version of The Long Road to Longbourn almost finished. The title refers to Elizabeth who is with Darcy, trying to get home with no money. Wickham is with them as well, which makes it not as romantic as many readers would like. If Summer had nothing to work on, I would send it to her. But I plan to sit on it for a month or two, reread it, and see how it can be improved. The title is tentative, but at least a possibility. Summer likes the title, but she hasn’t read the story. A title is never final until we have both read the story and agree on it.

Both Summer and I thus have a story that we are not currently working on. I am working on a file I have named Climb out the Window. That is not the final title. I refer to it to Summer as Climbing. The title refers to Elizabeth climbing out a window to avoid being compromised by Darcy. He was not ready to marry her at that point, but considering how he is courted by Miss Bingley for herself and Lady Catherine for her daughter, it has to be a blow to his ego for Elizabeth to go to that extreme to avoid marrying him.

Therefore, I am working on a Pride and Prejudice variation that will come out after two others, and Summer is working on her next Regency romance and will work on Hypothetically Married next. Both of us know what we can work on in our partnership. We have no problem with version control.