It is a truth universally acknowledged that on escaping an unhappy marriage, a young widow will be delighted to remove to the dower house and lease the marital abode to a single man in possession of a good fortune, provided he looks elsewhere to fulfil his want of a wife.
Five years after being forced into an unwanted marriage at the age of sixteen, and freed six months later by the death of her abusive husband, Elizabeth Grayson (née Bennet) has finally found a measure of peace. The inheritor of her husband’s estate, Netherfield Park, Elizabeth is now a wealthy young widow, independent and self-reliant. With an eye always on improving her four sisters’ woefully small dowries and providing for her mother, who will be homeless when her father dies, Elizabeth is pleased to lease out Netherfield to the Bingley family, making her home in the dower house in Meryton and vowing that she will never remarry.
Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire is rich and well connected, but reserved in company with anybody outside the very few he counts as friends. Towards those friends, he is loyal and steadfast, the staunchest of supporters. So when a young man comes to him with a tale of the clandestine marriage and mysterious death of Darcy’s old schoolfriend, James Grayson, and begs Darcy’s help to investigate the widow’s role, Darcy agrees. Visiting Charles Bingley, the new tenant of Netherfield, Darcy is very soon torn between his loyalty to his dead friend, and his burgeoning attraction to the widow.
Throw two unprincipled rogues and an elopement into the confines of Meryton, and how will Darcy’s dilemma over Elizabeth ever be resolved? And is she willing to put aside her misgivings, and trust again?
“Your kindness touches me very deeply”
At Netherfield, while Jane is recovering. Elizabeth’s brother-in-law, Matthew Grayson, (whom she has never met) is masquerading as Darcy’s secretary, Mr Saville:
Mr Darcy settled into his chair with a book, while Mr Hurst sprawled onto the sofa on the other side of his wife. Miss Bingley deserted Jane immediately to sit in the chair nearest Mr Darcy, to pick up her own book and leaf through it while chattering to him without surcease. Mr Saville was still not in evidence. Elizabeth had seen nothing of him since he had offended her. Mr Darcy might be a proud sort of man, but he had grace enough to spare her another encounter with his secretary. She was grateful.
“Have you had an entertaining conversation?”
Elizabeth started at Mr Hurst’s enquiry. She glanced at him. There was no sign of sleepiness or the languor she associated with a man satiated on food and drink. His eye was bright, and fixed on her with an expression she found hard to interpret.
“We have discussed lace, sir. I doubt you will have much opinion of it.”
“I do not know. I like that frivolous bit of lace Mrs Hurst calls a cap. Vastly fetching, I call it.” He leaned forward to look at Elizabeth across his wife. It was an intelligent look, one she had not expected to see. “You choose to wear no cap.”
“No,” was all she said.
He nodded. “You were a very young widow.”
“I still am, sir.”
What was the man about? If not for his wife sitting there looking a little flustered and apologetic, she would leave.
He laughed softly, and kept his voice low. “Indeed. We were concerned, Mrs Hurst and I, that your youth and your generally cheerful manner were used by Saville the other night as an excuse to escape censure.”
Elizabeth stared. She did open her mouth, but no sound came out other than a faint “Oh!”
“I was certain he made you uncomfortable.” Mrs Hurst’s voice was as soft as her husband’s.
Mr Hurst nodded along to every word from his wife’s lips. “I know not what he said to you, and do not need to, but be assured I will not tolerate the man offering disrespect to a lady and a guest. If my brother Bingley knew of it, he would be just as angered. Darcy has kept Saville from joining us at meals, and I hope that has been enough to shield you from importunity. But if Saville says or does anything to discompose you, know you may rely upon Louisa and me to champion you.”
Mrs Hurst’s hand closed over Elizabeth’s again. “I feared you did not speak because you were putting your consideration for your sister above your own comfort.”
Elizabeth’s eyes stung, and for a moment the candlelight dazzled and blurred. Her face burned with shame for those past unkindnesses where she had made Mrs Hurst uncomfortable. How was she any better than Mr Saville in that respect? She had been blind too, to this couple. They were not as she had perceived them through the lens distorted by Miss Bingley. She really should cease to congratulate herself on her ability to delineate character. “You are so very kind. Thank you! Mr Darcy has promised I shall not have to suffer Mr Saville’s company again. I am content with that.”
“Good,” said Mr Hurst. “I thought Darcy would act. I am surprised only that he engaged someone that required him to do so.”
As one, they all glanced in Mr Darcy’s direction. He was staring again, his book open on his knee, one hand lying across the pages and the other clenching and unclenching as if some doubt or ill-temper claimed him. Elizabeth fancied his eyes were on her rather than her companions. Miss Bingley twittered on in his ear, apparently unheeded.
“Your kindness touches me very deeply. Thank you.” Elizabeth half turned to Mrs Hurst, and squeezed the lady’s hand. “I do not deserve it, for I have not always shown it myself. I am sorry for all those times I caused you distress.”
“You never have,” Mrs Hurst assured her. “I do not have your lively manner, or quickness, and sometimes it takes me a moment to truly understand what is said when the conversation is so swift and pointed… well, you comprehend me, I think? If ever I seemed ill-at-ease, you have always been very quick to notice and turn the talk to something more comforting. Do not think your consideration went unmarked.”
Elizabeth shook her head, unable to speak. She did not deserve such grace and could only hope her smile looked less tremulous than it felt.
I must confess, I have been a bit behind in my reading. But, I am happy to report that I am halfway through Mistress of Netherfield… and loving it! I’m really delighted with the way Julia sprinkles in bit of canon. I feel like an insider stumbling on little sentences of treasure everytime I read a part that I am familiar with.
This story’s perspective is unique and has been hooked! If only someone else could take over the to-do list for a bit so I could finish it up. 🙂 Leave a comment below and let me know if you are planning to read Mistress of Netherfield.
Once Julia was a communications specialist with several UK government departments. These days she’s thankfully free of all that, and writing full time. She lives in the depths of the Nottinghamshire countryside with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockapoo, who’s supported by Mavis the
Assistant Editor, a Yorkie-Bichon cross with a bark several times bigger than she is but with no opinion whatsoever on the placement of semi-colons.
Title: Mistress of Netherfield
Author: Julia Winter
Category: P&P variation, Regency romance.
eBook Publication Date: 28 June 2021
Publisher: Glass Hat Press © 2021
Editor: Megan Reddaway
Cover: Detail from a portrait of Madame Philippe Panon Desbassayns de Richemont, Jeanne Eglé Mourgue, (1778–1855), painted by Marie Guillelmine Benoist in 1802.
(The Met, NY. Image in the public domain, available for unrestricted use.)
Universal link to digital stores: https://books2read.com/MistressOfNetherfield
Amazon Store Links:
Between 21 June and 3 July, enter this Rafflecoptor for the chance of a first prize of a copy of Mr Darcy’s Hunsford letter (complete with seal, and tied in red ribbon) and a copy of the eBook, or one of two second prizes of an ecopy of Mistress of Netherfield. http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1b5565291/?