Deleted scenes… or director’s cut? #02

Here’s another of those scenes that I had to cut from the finished book so I could sharpen up the pacing etc. This is taken from the early part of the book, just after the storm damages Nether House, the dower house for Netherfield, which is Elizabeth’s home. Elements of it were, as usual, cannibalised into the final text, but it’s interesting (I think!) to see some of these longer scenes and see how the book evolved. Of course, that may only be interesting to *me*, but hey ho! That’s the way of the world.

Chapter six: deleted scenes

The storm blew itself out in the small hours and the next day dawned cool and bright, with a sky so clear no one would ever suspect it of ever daring to rain. The entire household was up before dawn. The maids were long-faced on seeing the damage, and brightened only when Elizabeth promised to hire extra help for the hard labour of scrubbing and scouring. She went upstairs with Thomas to view the attics and servants’ rooms for herself, and came away saddened by the wreckage of her roof and chimney stack and the ruin it had made of the maidservants’ rooms. She opened the door of her little drawing room once and closed it again almost instantly, allowing the mellow oak door to close out the ruinous shambles the fallen bricks and soot had made of a room in which she had once taken such innocent pleasure. Charlotte’s bedroom, immediately above, was in little better state.

Mr Muir arrived before ten, with assurances that Netherfield Park had no damage beyond two lost roof slates and that he had already set the estate carpenter to the task of replacing them. Her tenants, he said, had not apparently noticed the damage and nor had they, when he had called at the house, been down for breakfast. He would call on Mr Bingley later.

“Town hours,” Elizabeth said, when Charlotte raised a condemning eyebrow over the Netherfield party being still abed so late. “Any news from our other tenants, Mr Muir?”

So far, none of the tenant farmers had reported any damage. Thankfully the harvest was fully in and, since the farmers took better care of their barns than their houses, the grain kept for the spring sowing was stored safe. Nether House had suffered the worst damage. So it was with a lighter heart that Elizabeth stood in the garden, ignoring the faintly overheard murmurs of shock from townspeople and militia officers passing by her gates, while Mr Muir climbed the ladders Thomas had borrowed that morning from the White Hart.

“I have noticed Thomas cultivates a strong alliance with the White Hart.” Charlotte remarked. “You have such sensible servants.”

Elizabeth’s gaze remained on the roof, and Mr Muir and Thomas. “Yes, though I do hope they are taking care up there.”

“Sensible,” Charlotte repeated. “Mr Muir will not take risks.”

It was a shame that Mr Muir was married and the father of a brace of sons. He and Charlotte would otherwise have made a fine pair, both so practical and rational.

“Thomas is probably right,” Mr Muir told them when he came back from inspecting the roof. “I think years of rain damage down the east side of the stack, rotted the mortar. Yesterday’s high winds were enough to push the entire chimney over.”

Within ten minutes, Thomas had borrowed another of the White Hart’s men and sent him to the builder’s yard in St Albans in a gig, bearing Mr Muir’s note of instruction. Mr Muir was in the attics inspecting the internal damage when Papa arrived, Sir William Lucas with him. Elizabeth and Charlotte greeted their respective sires, taking them into the dining room on the dry side of the house.

“A lamentable sight, to be sure.” Sir William’s mouth drooped to show his sympathy. “To see such a venerable old house so spoiled…”

“It was a difficult night, though everyone in the household were Trojans.” Elizabeth smiled as Sally brought the tea tray. “ Thank you, Sally. Would you call Mr Muir? I am sure he would welcome some tea.”

Mr Muir did indeed welcome it. He downed one cup quickly—the better to wash the soot from his throat, most likely—and did not gainsay a second cup. “I am sorry to say, ma’am, that we have a long job ahead of us. Not only must the roof and stack be repaired, but with so much rubble and dirt coming down the flues, we must open up the chimneys in the drawing room and the bedroom above and rebuild them from top to bottom. Then the rooms will need to be refinished and redecorated. The muck and discomfort will be considerable. It will take some weeks, I fear. I dinna think you ladies will wish to remain in all that dirt.”

Elizabeth hid her frown behind her teacup. “How inconvenient, then, to have leased out Netherfield Park so quickly.”

“Come to Longbourn, Lizzy,” said Papa. “Your mother and I will be delighted to have you at home for a while.”

Elizabeth looked quickly at Charlotte, whose serene smile reassured.

“I will stay at Lucas Lodge. We will look on it as our usual Christmas arrangement, brought in a little early.”

“Three months early!” Elizabeth’s chest tightened again, and she rubbed a hand against her breastbone. Longbourn, possibly for some weeks. How was it to be borne? The noise, her mother’s fidgets… she sighed, then brightened, because Jane and her father would be there.

Sir William nodded eager agreement. “Your home is always at Lucas Lodge, Charlotte. We will be very happy to have you there again.”

“I will be very happy, too,” Charlotte said, as kind as her parent.

“Capital, my dear! Capital!”

“It is the best solution, Miss Elizabeth.” Mr Muir put down his cup and stood. “I mun’ be away to Netherfield and see Mr Bingley. I shall return later, although I doubt the builder’s reply will come much before dark.”

“Bennet and I will call on Mr Bingley later today to welcome him to Meryton.” Sir William looked up from his investigation of the plate of small cakes Mrs Rance had supplied. “I must make sure he knows of our little assembly on Saturday and press him and his party to join us.”

“He will find it difficult, do you not think, sir? They have barely arrived, after all. His sisters will not have had time to unpack.” The swift sidelong glance Elizabeth aimed at her father showed him to be in a state of high amusement.

“You give no credence to Sir William’s powers of persuasion?”

“I do, of course, Papa, but I feel for Mr Bingley, whose household must be at sixes and sevens while they settle in.”

“Whereas Sir William and I feel for ourselves, and the penalties incurred by ignoring the instructions laid upon us by our wives.” Papa smirked at her raised eyebrow. They both knew better. “I am certain you will see your tenant at the Assembly. I trust he will not disappoint.”

“Well,” said Elizabeth, “we must hope, I suppose, that neither will Meryton.”

“It is the best thing to do.” Mrs Rance had been invited to join their conference in the dining room, when the two gentlemen had departed on their neighbourly mission. “We’ll be well away from it in our rooms, Rance and me, but you and Miss Lucas would be in the thick of the dirt if you stayed. Will you take Sally with you, Miss Elizabeth?”

“Will you not need her here?” Elizabeth glanced up from her contemplation of the hands she had linked together in her lap.

Mrs Rance shook her head. “She and Bessie would be better out of it. There’s no point in their normal work if the house is to be upended for weeks, and they won’t be able to get at the rooms on the east side at all. And with builders’ men in the house for weeks on end… well, I can keep Jenny with me, but I’d rather we didn’t have the girls too close to the men.” She added, in a dark tone, “Bad enough we have all those feckless soldiers in town, without half a dozen workmen inside our very doors.”

Mrs Rance was not usually given to flights of fancy of the type Elizabeth’s mother favoured, but this gloomy apprehension was worthy of anything Mrs Bennet could produce.

“Well, my mother will appreciate another maid to take on the extra work involved in my living in Longbourn for some weeks. Sally will get plenty of training, too, in helping look after my sisters… yes. She may come with me.” Elizabeth glanced at Charlotte. “Will you take Bessie?” At Charlotte’s rather startled look, Elizabeth added, hastily, remembering that the Lucases did not have the luxury of Longbourn’s income or her own, “She will remain in my employ, of course. You are used to her acting as your maid each day, and I will be in your mother’s debt if she will house Bessie.”

“I am sure Mama will be happy to oblige you,” Charlotte said with all due solemnity.

And so it was settled. Sally and Bessie were told, and sent to pack their mistresses’ respective belongings and their own, while Mrs Rance departed to do whatever it was that cooks did when their plans for meals that day were upended by catastrophe.

“Do you mind me wishing Bessie upon you, Charlotte? If it will be too much, I will take her to Longbourn.”

“Mama will be happy to have an extra pair of hands while I am at home.” Charlotte turned up her mouth in a sly smile. “Besides, with Bessie there, Maria and I will not be called upon to help with the housekeeping. I have become quite the lady of leisure living as your companion and I believe you have quite spoiled me for a more restricted life.” The smile slipped at little. “I shall find it hardest to return to being merely the eldest, unmarried daughter at the Lodge. Bessie’s presence will remind me that is not my true life now.”

“Yes.” Elizabeth found herself looking at her hands again. “I understand. It is a diminishment, a return to a place where we are dependent and insignificant. I hope I can the irritation with grace.”

“A state of dependency is my lot, unless I marry and secure an establishment of my own. I am not sure that I regret a husband so much as the chance for children. Since, sadly, the children are consequent upon the husband, I will likely have neither.”

“You will always have a home with me.”

“That is not certain. You are very young still and you may yet remarry. My life is narrower. The only remedy for ladies of our class is marriage and that is unlikely now. I will make the best of it, but I do sorely rue how confined and… and lacking my future may be.”

“Charlotte—”

“You have greater immediate vexations in having to give up your own establishment, even if just for a while.” Charlotte’s sly smile was back, and her shaken head told Elizabeth she would not discuss this further. “I quite understand you would wish Mr Bingley to perdition until, perhaps the Christmas quarter day. We could have returned to living at Netherfield.”

“I do not like Netherfield.” Elizabeth pleated the soft muslin of her dress between her fingers. “I suppose Longbourn is the better option, though I abhor its noise and busyness.”

“And living again with the family.”

Charlotte understood all too well. Elizabeth could not match her smile for smile, but they nodded at each other.

“Yes. You know what I fear in this prospect of spending so many weeks in my father’s house.”

She left it unsaid. Charlotte leant forward to put her hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder.

Living in Longbourn for any length of time would test Elizabeth’s fortitude to the utmost. She would have to guard her tongue, and show nothing of what she felt. For even after almost five years, she feared that she would never forgive her mother.

Never.

Where to find Mistress of Netherfield

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2 comments

  1. Thank you – I shall read it 😊

    Take care (I a allowed to say this because I am an elderly lady 🤩)

    Doris

    Like

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