Mansfield Parsonage comes out this Friday, and I am both a nervous wreck and hella excited all at the same time. It being my first piece of fiction prose, I am as anxious for a good reception as I was for my first “baby”, Blood Will Tell. For some reason, the nonfiction books became easier to release – people either liked my writing or they did not; I knew the facts were sound and that was all I could do. Fiction is a horse of a different color. There is a lot of my heart in this work. It will feel as though, writing aside, people who don’t like the book don’t like me.
Ah, well. Such is an author’s lot.
Anyway, here is an excerpt from Mansfield Parsonage that occurred in mid-December, 1812. Mary Crawford has been for a walk, and Henry Crawford has been fox hunting with Edmund Bertram and William Price, the elder brother of Austen’s heroine Fanny Price. The anecdote at the end, regarding William Chute, really happened; I found it in the course of my research into Regency Period.
Hope you enjoy!
Mary was walking in the shrubbery when she heard the noise of her brother’s hunter trotting toward the stable, and Henry’s voice halloo for the groom. He sounded cheerful, so she assumed some poor fox hand been run to earth and torn to pieces by the hounds. She knew, having been told all her life that it was true, that foxes were vermin and she should no more pity them than she should a rat, but still — she did not like to think of successful fox hunts. Nonetheless, she had a duty as a sister to listen to her brother’s enthusiastic recounting of the chase, and as she was also growing too cold in the December winds, she headed toward the parsonage so Henry could regale her with his retelling of his morning’s hunt.
She met her brother in the vestibule, where the butler was relieving him of his muddy hunting coat, gloves, and hat.
“Mary!” Henry cried out when spying her, “what a run I have had! Hugo Meynell and all the Quorn Hunt never had better quarry! We rode for hours and we never did catch that little red rum beggar.”
“Monsuier Reynard has eluded you again, I take it?” Mary grinned at her brother’s jubilation in defeat.
“I think Bertram may have the right of it and Monsieur Reynard may turn back into a witch when it pleases him. Come to think on it, I did see a wizen old woman tottering down one of the lanes. It was probably him,” Henry’s face was glowing from his exertions. “Let me change into my dinner clothes and I’ll come tell you all about it.”
“Fine, fine,” Mary agreed. “I’ll be in the drawing room so mind you don’t dwaddle too long with your cravat. There is only so much human ingenuity and starch can do.”
Henry stuck out his tongue like he had done as a small boy, causing Mary to give an involuntary blast of laughter and then clap her hand to her mouth in embarrassment. Then he winked, and bounded up the stairs two at a time, as was his habit.
The butler moved to assist Mary with shedding her outerwear. “Dawson, have Beatty fetch me down my puce merino shawl, house shoes, and my warmest mitts,” she instructed him, “and tell her to bring them to me in the drawing room.”
Beatty, as ever, was quick in her work and Mary was snuggly established on the sofa, wrapped in a brownish-purple wool shawl with her embroidery on her lap and her feet perched on a small footstool, by the time her brother entered the drawing room.
“You look a picture,” Henry said as he kissed her cheek and sat down in the chair nearest the sofa. “With that frilly mob cap on you have a proper wifely appearance.”
“Laugh if you will, but this cap keeps my head warm; in weather such as this, these caps are a good reason for sticking my head in the parson’s noose. Besides, should visitors be announced it is easy to remove it and hide it in my sewing box.”
After weeks of warmer than normal weather, the north wind had come whistling down from Scotland with a vengeance. While Mary was walking, her redingote and the exercise kept her warm, but once she was sitting still, even in a room with a good fire and bundled in a shawl over her sturdy chemisette and long-sleeved camblet gown, she could soon be reduced to a shivering pile of gooseflesh. When the day was particularly bitter, she considered emigrating to Morocco.
“It actually looks well on you. You have no need to fear that either matrimony or spinsterhood will injure your appearance,” Henry assured her.
“Thank you. Your opinion on such matter carries great weight with me,” Mary informed him was sweet sarcasm.
“It should, for I am always in the first stare of fashion,” Henry smiled. “I believe I shall begin to tell Anderson to black my boots with champagne, like Beau Brummell does.”
“You will be the most elegantly dressed dandy in Northampton,” Mary said wryly. “The local milkmaids and scrubbers will swoon when they see you.”
“They do that now, dearest; no need for champagne on my boots just for them.”
“Well, Miss Price won’t think it manly and appealing; I can tell you that for nothing.”
Henry smiled complacently. “I am making some headway on Miss Price; I detect a spring thawing in her heart. I am sure she will love me soon.”
“If by love you you mean detest you less, then I agree.”
“No, no. I detect symptoms of softened feeling toward me.”
“That is but her love for her brother making her feel in charity towards everyone. You are a drawcansir if you think her heart is softening towards you in particular,” Mary teased.
“What you do not take into account, Mary, is my formidable charm. As my sister, you cannot see it. Miss Price, however, cannot fail to be moved by it.”
“If you are half so charming as you think you are then she will be moved indeed.”
Henry laughed. “I am sure Miss Price would never speak to her brother this way.”
“That is because William Price is not the cockalorum you are.”
“Are you really calling me, your beloved brother, a self-important little man?” Henry gave Mary his fiercest glare.
“Fair enough,” he shrugged, “but I am a charming self-important little man.”
Mary’s smile lit her face. “I cannot deny it, when it comes down to it. You are in truth a charming rogue. Miss Price must prepare herself to meet her fate; she will love you just as all other women do.”
“To be honest, I was afraid for a moment today she would not. Sugarfoot stumbled on some hidden obstacle and William Price was thrown arse over elbow into a pile of muck,” Henry said in a dolorous manner.
“Oh! May I assume Mr Price is well, since you are in such high spirits?”
“The fellow was right as rain. Leapt to his feet, not a scratch on him. I believe that Bertram and I had a much worse fright when he landed than he did.”
“That’s because you and Mr Bertram would have both committed self-murder before choosing to be the one to tell Miss Price of her brother’s extinction,” Mary noted.
“It would seem the better option than watching her shatter like a dropped Dresden shepherdess, yes,” Henry said.
Mary frowned. “We jest, at least in part, but as a sister I can tell you I could never forgive anyone who brought me the news of your demise. I believe I would rather lose my own life than lose yours.”
Henry was touched, and tried to make light of it. “Of course you would. You are too good to deprive the world of its brightest jewel.”
“Blatherskite,” Mary said mildly.
“I can tell you about a throw from a horse that will cheer you excessively,” Henry declared.
“I prepare myself for excessive amusement then.”
“One fine day William Chute — you know him; he’s that Tory dunderhead who speaks up only for the sugar planters’ interests — was out on a hunt and he was badly thrown. Worse for him, his horse stepped on his upper leg. His friends rushed to his aid, and one of them said, “Good God, sir! I thought we were going to lose our member!” Mr Chute replied, “Well, considering where my horse stepped on me, I can tell you I thought I was going to lose mine.”
With any luck, gentle reader, you liked this and want to read more! If so, I’ll be posting lots and lots of links on Friday so stay tuned!