Friday, November 9, 2012

Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride and Prejudice Continues (Intro & Chapter One)

My dear Miss Austen,

How easy it is to trespass upon the dead! You have no ability to defend yourself, and here I am posed to turn this convenient state of affairs to good measure. I will not repeat my previous justifications, offered with sincere humility and good intentions at the time, for now such words would stink of hypocrisy. Dare I apologize for that which I do with great intention and for little reason more than my own personal amusement? No. I cannot find the gall.

Were you with us still, Darcy, Elizabeth, and all who attend them could rest safely in your own, motherly hands, instead of being tossed about so unceremoniously by those of us who pen such works as this. The situation is most unfair, but we must have more Bennets and Bingleys, more Collinses and de Bourghs, and all that we who truly love you can do to mitigate our transgressions is to try and honor your memory, even as we infringe upon it. You see, we are selfish and simply cannot help ourselves, and as “there is no hope for a cure”, to utilize your own words, you must forgive us.

Today I offer for your inspection, perhaps even approval, one Sir James Stratton. To again borrow your words, and from where you have been most often generous, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Should a gentleman of said description be so contrary as to defy this edict, his friends will feel perfectly at liberty to interest themselves on his behalf, and amply justified they will consider even the most intrusive interference, too. So thought Sir James. Position and wealth are largely considered blessings, but as both were attained through the sacrifice of a beloved father, Sir James rather regarded them as burdens. Since inheriting he avoided society, impatient with those who valued him for wealth and position alone. It was his vast preference to remain cloistered at Teggington, interesting himself in his estate and stables, seeking diversion in travel, and only mixing with English society as needed. Nevertheless, his friends would see him married, and such seclusion was not to be tolerated. Maybe, perhaps, if there were a charming daughter of the neighboring house, or another young lady in the area to whom he might attach himself, a season in London would not be of the utmost necessity, but no such ready damsels existed. Thus came the assaults, every person dear to him united in their cause. Some came at the question with care, pestering him with vague hints and suggestions, while others attacked directly, charging him at every opportunity with his duty and barraging him with their assistance. Though the latter approach was decidedly more provoking, he had to acknowledge it more effective, a thought bestirred by a letter from his aunt, Augusta Westingham, a leader of this second camp:

, Feb. 17

My Dear Sir James,

While I am not one to credit gossip, news of your recent escapade upon an unstable creature has caused me no small degree of alarm. My dear nephew, can you really have taken such an unwarranted risk? Am I to see the home I grew up in pass to virtual strangers, all because you will insist on hazarding your life before securing your patrimony? The entire fate of the Stratton family rests in your hands: do not be cavalier about your duty!

If you must continue at trying to break your neck, at least beget a child first – perhaps two, for good measure – and for that you must marry posthaste, as heaven knows you will soon be engaged in some new escapade. Despite my laments, it's what I always liked about you, James. You keep life interesting, and I was always one for a bit of adventure: the spice and flavor of variety. As Cowper further wrote of there being nothing “in the vale of life half so delightful as a wife”, we can be sure he too would urge you to savor this epicurean delight with all expediency.

It is to this end that I have invited several dear friends, all mothers of eminently eligible ladies, to a house party the second week in March. Your friend Mr. Brooks, who was so kind as to call this morning as he was passing through the area, assures me this will provide more than enough time for you to fully heal. If none of these ladies capture your heart, you will continue on to London for the season, where an endless number of young ladies will be sure to compete for your attention. I know not on what grounds you could possibly object! There can be no excuse for further delay.

Your affectionate aunt,

Augusta Westingham

Sir James sighed. Simon would betray him to his aunt. He was certain his friend had acted with the best of intentions, but being perfectly guileless sometimes led him to share that which need not be said. Nevertheless, he knew Aunt Augusta to be correct, however little he welcomed her involvement in his affairs, and saw no reason to resist her summons. If her house party produced just the right lady, all the better for him, but he would choose his own bride, not have one selected for him. And if, in the meantime, his fancy drove him to ride another unbroken horse, he would just have to do his very best to preserve his neck. It would not do to prove her right, after all, for if there were anyone who could gloat beyond the barrier of death, it would be Augusta Westingham.

Chapter One

“A rather thick letter for you, Miss Bennet. It must be at least four sheets. You will soon run out of pin money if you continue to maintain such verbose correspondents,” Mrs. Rivers chided her favorite at the breakfast table.

“Oh!” Kitty Bennet exclaimed. “It is from Miss Darcy. May I take it to Sydney Gardens to read? It is such a lovely day, and this weather cannot possibly last.”

“As you have no lessons scheduled until later this morning, I see no reason why a walk would not be most beneficial. As Abby has the morning off, you must take Miss Lydia with you, of course.”

The subject of this condition looked up from the far end of the table, where she and three other young ladies had been having a secretive conversation all their own. “I cannot attend Kitty without Miss Burke. She and I have important business to discuss.”

Mrs. Rivers narrowed suspicious eyes in their direction. “No more mischief, I presume?”

“None at all, Mrs. Rivers!” proclaimed an injured Miss Burke, a pretty, vivacious girl, and Lydia Bennet's closest associate. “I think a walk would be just the thing. Miss Lydia and I only wish to discuss the latest fashions. Miss Lenton has the newest plates, you know, and we finally had our turn to study them last night.”

“Important business, indeed.” Mrs. Rivers tone was dismissive, but her eyes revealed her amusement. “Very well. Mind you all stay together, and be back no later than one, or Signore Falcione will be most put out.”

“Yes ma'am,” all three ladies chanted, leaving the table to dress for their outing. It was not long before they were out the door, enjoying the unseasonable warmth and unexpected freedom.

While they journeyed the easy mile from Mrs. Rivers' establishment to Sidney Gardens, the ladies maintained their headmistress' dictate to remain together, but it was not long after they reached the gardens that Miss Burke and Lydia broke off from Kitty in order to pursue their private conversation, leaving their companion on a nearby bench. Kitty had very little faith in the notion that Letitia Burke and her younger sister were actually discussing fashion, for such conversation would not require the degree of secrecy they seemed determined to maintain. It was far more likely they were planning some practical joke or another, like hiding Miss Carson's workbag from her again. Kitty cared little for their antics and was happy to be left alone with her letter.

It was a very long missive. Georgiana Darcy had filled each page so closely with relations of her activities in London, where she was spending her first season, that even her elegant handwriting was difficult to decipher. Kitty enjoyed every detail about the balls and routs she had been attending, closing her eyes and dreaming of being in the elegant rooms with Georgiana, just as fashionably dressed. In this imaginative state of mind, Kitty had to reread the final paragraph several times before she felt convinced of its reality:

My cousin, Lady Annabelle Fitzwilliam, as you know, has been a huge comfort to me throughout this ordeal. Had it not been for her presence, I do not know how I should have fared these past few weeks. My presentation, without her companionship, would have been horribly daunting. So when it was revealed that poor Annabelle had contracted the measles, you can surely understand my distress. I do feel terrible for my cousin, certainly, but self-interest overrides sympathy, and my greatest concern has been how lonely I shall be for the rest of this season, having to attend all these overwhelming events without the sympathy of companion my own age and situation. Thus it is decided, assuming you consent, that due to the excellent reports from Mrs. Rivers regarding your progress, now is time to end your formal education that you might join us in London to share the remainder of the season with me. What do you think, my dear Kitty? I profess your companionship is even more desirable to me than Annabelle's, with whom I have never been very close. Please say you will join us! Lizzy says she will see to your wardrobe once you get here, and my brother has already written to Mrs. Rivers regarding travel arrangements. We hope you will be with us before Lady Day, as we are invited to a great ball that evening that I want you to attend. Do not leave me in suspense, but write your answer as soon as you are able. I await your response most anxiously!

Your impatient friend,

Georgiana Darcy

“London!” Kitty gasped aloud, as the full impact of the invitation made itself felt. “I must write immediately!” and looking around herself, she realized that neither Lydia nor Miss Burke were anywhere insight.

She rose quickly, setting off in the direction she had seen them take.  Soon she spotted both ladies, engaged in animated conversation with a young man she did not know. Quickening her pace, she was just within a close enough distance to the trio to overhear Lydia say, “Here comes my sister. Now we shall have no more fun.”

Kitty nearly froze in the shock of those words. She and Lydia, once inseparable, had grown apart in the year they had spent in Bath, the latter having easily made friends amongst the girl's her own age, while Kitty suffered the uncomfortable distinction of being the eldest pupil in Mrs. Rivers' care, but yet she had never suspected that she was regarded by the other as a nuisance. The knowledge hurt, but the past year had brought Kitty ample instruction on the concealment of such emotion, and she continued onward, established herself as part of their group, and awaited the introductions.

“Miss Bennet, may I present Mr. Beaumont? His family and mine have long been friends, and we grew up quite like brother and sister. This, of course, is Miss Lydia's sister.”                                   

The gentleman smiled and greeted her congenially, the pleasure he so happily betrayed in making her acquaintance easing some of Kitty agitation. Handsome, charming, an old friend of Miss Burke's, and apparently quite taken with her younger sister if his taking advantage of the older sister's presence to heavily pepper his speech with Miss Lydia's, the L rolling from his tongue caressingly, might be taken as an indication of infatuation. She could see nothing objectionable in the chance meeting, but she wanted to know more of Mr. Beaumont.

“How long have you known Mr. Beaumont, Lydia?” she questioned as they headed back towards the school.

“Oh, any number of weeks now. We met one day at Letty's house, when I joined her there for tea.”

Letitia Burke was a resident of Bath, but her father, a widower, found it more convenient for his only child to reside with Mrs. Rivers while completing her education, as he was incapable of doing anything other than spoiling her. She had spent some years in her aunt's household before that good lady refused to undertake the task any longer, claiming she could no longer guarantee the girl's safety. School suited Miss Burke just fine, as she was free to go back and forth to her own home as often as she liked, while providing her with a great deal more interesting companionship. She had become fast friends with Lydia within days of their meeting, and together they were quite the bane of their instructors' existences.

Now she giggled mischievously, “But they have seen a great deal of each other since.”

Lydia glared at her friend. “I have seen him twice more: once again at Letty's, and another time, like today, we met him in the street.”

“He's very handsome,” Kitty acknowledged, and Lydia adopted a more amiable attitude.

“Is he not? I wish you had seen him in his blue coat!”    

“I do not know what you think attractive in Hugh Beaumont!” exclaimed Letty, making a face of disgust. “You would not be able to bear him if you knew him at I did, a fat and sticky child. I used to hate to dine with him.”

Lydia defended her admirer, claiming his past had no bearing on the present, and the two began to slacken their pace as they argued over Mr. Beaumont's merits. This conversation bore every appearance of being well-rehearsed. Kitty, anxious to at least begin a response to Georgiana before her music lesson, was several paces ahead of her companions when she reached the next intersection. Perceiving an opening in traffic, and not wanting to dawdle, Kitty boldly stepped into the street. She had almost reached the pavement opposite when a curricle came upon her, proceeding at a most reckless speed, and only stopped short just in time to avoid running her down. Kitty had jumped backwards upon perceiving her peril, and now her body trembled with fright as she contemplated her near escape. In such a moment of duress, an angry voice penetrated her through the seemingly violent noise of her pounding heartbeat, “What do you think you are about? Do you not know you might have been killed? Get out of the street!”

This advice, though roughly delivered, was so sound that she heeded it immediately, scrambling from the thoroughfare before allowing her anger to register. Observing the gentleman wrestling with his reins, trying to calm his frightened horses, Kitty found her voice and responded with equal heat, “In such a crush, sir, I am astonished you would proceed at such a pace!”                                                                      

Sir James Stratton, having gained control over his team, noticed that it was a genteelly dressed young lady upon whom he had nearly inflicted grave injury – one whose agitation added a very becoming glow to an already rosy complexion – and jumped down to render assistance. Kitty, in turn, took notice of his fine frame, elegant dress, and handsome face. However, though her appearance might work to quell his chagrin, his made her only more indignant. A man of such refined appearance should be more solicitous, like her sister's husband, Mr. Darcy. His next statement, “You really should take care to watch where you are going,” though spoken gently, was taken as further reprimand, doing nothing to quell her ire.

“I was perfectly aware of my proceedings, sir, and this near accident would never have occurred if you heeded your own unsolicited advice!” she proclaimed shakily, her heightened emotions starting to overtake any semblance of calm she had thus far managed to maintain.

Perceiving her very understandable distress, as well as recognizing the justice of her claim, Sir James offered her his escort, beginning to in introduce himself when an anxious call of “Miss Bennet! Are you alright?” came from the corner opposite, claiming the attention of his damsel in distress.

“I do not require your assistance, sir!” she declared as firmly as she could. “I am perfectly well to proceed on my own,” and turning on her heel she began to make her way back across the street, hoping she did not betray her weakened knees. However, as she almost immediately fell into the path of yet another vehicle, her attempt at composure was in vain.

She heard the young man snicker beside her as he grasped her arm and steadied her balance, and unwittingly leaning for a moment upon his support, he quickly guided her out of traffic. Overcoming her bewilderment, she threw off his grasp and turned on him, her face now fully flushed with the heat of her outrage, “Unhand me, sir! As much as I am obliged to you for nearly killing me, I feel far safer without your attendance!”

A determined twinkle shot from his eye as he smiled broadly (his apparent humor acted as an additional insult to the vexed Kitty, who found herself infuriatingly inclined to smile back), before he replied, “Oh yes. I can see you are perfectly capable of navigating a street all upon your own.”

“I do not know what you can possibly find amusing!” she declared in perplexity, straightening her disordered pelisse.

“Do you not?  Please accept my humblest apologies, not only for my own reckless driving, but also that of all the other carriages hereabouts, as they all seem determined to get in your way.”

“Oh!” cried an indignant Kitty as she turned her back upon the gentleman, gathered her companions, and proceeded on her way, now taking the utmost care to avoid any further potential mishaps.  As she once again reclaimed the pavement, she turned round to see the man directly behind them, gathering his reins and smiling at her, laughter in his eyes as he waved goodbye. Kitty thrust her chin into the air and continued up the street, Lydia and Miss Burke's questions echoing behind her.


Want a little more? Check back for a peak at chapter two!

First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice is available on Amazon now (buy it here). Second Glances: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice Continues will be available soon.


  1. I'd laugh at her too. She is acting childish slightly, and did step out in front of another, I assume buggy, not vehicle, and blasted him for that too. Maybe she should go to London. Might be safer.

  2. Hi fredamans! Thanks for reading and commenting! Just to clarify, vehicle is a word derived from Latin and has been used since that time in reference to a multitude of transportation mechanisms, including buggies (though in this particular case, I was thinking of a wagon).