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Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Very Austen Valentine Interview with Robin Helm and Wendi Sotis

A Very Austen Valentine Interview with Robin Helm and Wendi Sotis
by Barbara Tiller Cole

Please help me welcome Robin Helm and Wendi Sotis to Darcyholic Diversions today as we get to know them and their stories in the newest Austen Anthology, A Very Austen Valentine.  Be sure to comment and follow the rafflecopter link at the end of the post for a chance to win the give aways that are a part of the Blog Tour.

And now to visit with Robin and Wendi:

BTCOLE:  Wendi and Robin, I am so excited that you and Robin are visiting with us here at
Darcyholic Diversions today to chat a bit and talk about A Very Austen Valentine.  Let’s start with you Wendi.  Remind me where you are from and a little bit about your family.

Wendi Sotis

WS:  Hi Barbara! I’m thrilled to be here!  I grew up on Long Island, New York, USA, and have a BA in Psychology. I married my Mr. Darcy… goodness, it will be 30 years in April! We have triplets who just entered college this past fall. When they were very young and I needed a bit of mommy-time, I’d read. However, with
three toddlers, most times I would be only be able to get through a few sentences at a time before being interrupted, so I stuck with books that I knew very well, like re-reading Jane Austen’s novels.
BTCOLE:  Triplets! It is the first thing I remember about you!  
Have you written a story where our couple has triplets yet?

WS:  I came this close to doing it once, but I decided to limit it to twins instead. Maybe someday!

BTCOLE:  Robin, let’s hear from you.  I understand that
where you were born has a historical story in
itself.  Tell us about that.

RHELM:  I was born in Monroe, North Carolina, but lived five miles out of the small town of Pageland, South Carolina, until I was twenty-two. The house was part of what had been the tiny burg of Hornesboro during the
pre-Civil War era. General Sherman marched through there during that war, burning everything but the house. He used it to quarter his troops.

I went away to college in Winston-Salem, NC when I was eighteen, but I
always returned to the one hundred fifty year old plantation-style
farmhouse my family owned and renovated.

BTCOLE:  Wendi, How did you discover Jane Austen inspired writings?

WS:  I became interested in Jane Austen-Inspired fiction when a fellow mom of multiples, also a Janeite, told me she’d read a version of Pride and Prejudice from Darcy’s point-of-view, and I went online to search
for it. I struck gold by coming across a forum where people shared their stories. I was hooked instantly!
My story is similar yet completely different!  That feeling of striking gold though I certainly remember!  What was your initial inspiration to write Jane Austen inspired books? While reading Austen-inspired stories, I had a lot of ideas for stories of my own, but for a long time, I lacked the confidence to try writing one. One morning I woke up from an especially good story-idea-dream and decided I HAD to write it, so I did. It took a great deal of courage to actually post that story on the forum. To my surprise, people liked it! :-) I haven't stopped writing since. 

Robin Helm

BTCOLE:  Robin, How did you meet your own Austen man?

RH:  He’s from Michigan, and I’m a Southern girl. We met our freshman year at college in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I actually remember the very first time I saw him, and I can’t say that about any other man.
He was sitting on a low wall with his girlfriend. I looked at that handsome, kind face and thought, “The good ones are always taken.” When we were twenty-two, we married, living in Winston-Salem for a year before we moved to Fort Lauderdale, taking a position at the first church we ministered in full-time.  At that time, he was a Music
Minister. Now, he’s a Senior Adult Pastor.

BTCOLE:  Attending the seminary myself I know that there are many things expected from the spouse of a minister.  What have your done for a living besides the responsibilities that are attached to being the
wife of a minister?

RH:  We lived in Fort Lauderdale for six years where I worked in a bank and for Holiday Inns. Larry and I then moved to Palatka (Florida) for eight years. I taught in two different Christian schools in Palatka. For the past twenty-seven years, we’ve been at the same church in Lancaster, South Carolina, about twenty-five miles from where I grew up. For seventeen of those years, I taught in a Christian school in my hometown.

I was a full-time schoolteacher for twenty-five years before I started writing. I taught music part-time in a charter school for eight years after I left the classroom. I founded a Music Academy at our church nine years ago, and I teach piano, flute, and (occasionally) organ. I’m also Associate in Music at our church.

BTCOLE:  Wendi, I haven’t had time to be active on forums for awhile now, but I do
remember reading the first story you posted online!  What inspired the
particular story you are writing about for this anthology?

WS:  When we decided the theme of this anthology to be Valentine’s Day, I started researching Valentine’s Day in Regency times. I found two “Valentine Writer” books that had been reprinted, one from 1780 and the other from 1794. Each has many verses to give young ladies and gentlemen ideas as to what they could write to their valentines. Everything else just filled in around the idea of using some of them in the story.

BTCOLE:  I enjoyed the history you shared in your story about Regency Valentines.  Your Colonel and Anne were definitely devious in how it came to be that Elizabeth received Valentines!  What was your favorite part of this story?

WS: Thanks! This question is so difficult to answer! I always seem to love the scene I’m writing at that moment the most.

BTCOLE:  I was intrigued by the Bingley’s empty townhouse!  Many stories speak of remodeling but I don’t honestly remember one that was empty!  Did you have dollhouses as a kid?  Do you particularly enjoy decorating?

WS:  I have to admit it was something I didn’t research (shame on me!), but I figured if the previous family sold their house instead of leasing it out, they would take most of their things with them, just like we would do now. I imagined the house would be pretty much empty at this stage. I had Barbie houses which mostly came with furniture built in, LOL! I do love to dress up the house at Christmas.

BTCOLE:  Robin, back to you.  How did you discover Jane Austen and Austen inspired literature?

RH:  As a student and later as a teacher, I have long loved the books Austen wrote, and I instilled that love in my husband, my daughters, and many of my students.

My sister Gayle and I were in Myrtle Beach at a teachers’ convention when she told me about the Austenesque books she’d found. I thought it was amazing, so we went to a book store, and I bought several of them. I was hooked immediately. I read all the Austenesque books Gayle had, as well as the ones I bought. Then, she introduced me to the online readers’ forums. I read on your forum, Barbara, and on A Happy
Assembly, Derbyshire Writers’ Guild, and Darcy & Lizzy. I now have my own readers/writers forum, Beyond Austen, I post my WIPs along with other like-minded authors.

BTCOLE:  What was your inspiration to write Austen inspired literature of your own?

RH:  Probably two years or so after that, I decided to write, and I settled on the idea of Darcy as Elizabeth’s guardian angel. There are many who think The Guardian Trilogy has nothing to do with Mr. Darcy, but in my
mind, it was a perfect fit. According to Scripture, Christ was made a little lower than the angels when He became human. That means that angels are higher beings than we are – just as Darcy had a higher place in society than Elizabeth Bennet did. Angels and humans aren’t supposed to marry, so loving Elizabeth in the way he did was
forbidden. He took a lower form to marry her. I think Xander (Fitzwilliam Alexander Darcy) is a good representation of the honorable gentleman from Derbyshire.

I posted Guardian, SoulFire, and Legacy on the same forums where I read. I recently put all three books in one volume – The Guardian Trilogy.

BTCOLE:  What inspired the particular story you are writing about for this anthology?

RH:  Actually, I Dream of You was the third story I wrote for the anthology. My original story was More to Love. It grew to fifty thousand words, and Laura Hile reminded me that our stories were supposed to be around twenty to thirty thousand words. She insisted that instead of cutting words from More to Love, it should be a
standalone, and she was right.

Immediately, I dropped More to Love (which I am now finishing), and began working on Maestro, a story close to my musician’s heart. I felt it so deeply that it is some of my best work, but again Laura balked. She told me Maestro deserved to be a full-length novel, not a short story. She was right. Again. (Don’t you just hate when that happens?)

After a few sleepless nights worrying about the looming deadline, she suggested I look back at one-shots and shorts I had written a few years before. When I did that, I came up with the concept of using Elizabeth’s dreams to develop the story. I wrote I Dream of You in a month or so. It just flowed with no struggle, and that was a first for me.

BTCOLE:  How exciting that we will expect two more works from you inspired by your novella for A Very Austen Valentine!  But about this story, was there personal inspiration for Elizabeth dreams?  Do you have vivid
dreams yourself?

RH:  Yes. I have very vivid dreams. In fact, I dream storylines in color. How weird is that? My dad used to go to bed worried about problems with his machines (motor graders, backhoes, bull dozers), and he’d dream the answer to repairing them. He told me God sent him the dreams.  I believed that with him, and I believe it in my own case.

BTCOLE:  Elizabeth had a determination to be a fine horse woman in your story. Have you ever ridden yourself?  

RH:  I use to ride although it has been many years.

I rode my brother-in-law’s horses when I was in college. I had a
friend who lived on a farm a few miles away. She had her own horse,
and we would ride when I was home on the weekends and during summers.
Our boyfriends would join us. It was so much fun.

BTCOLE:  Back to you Wendi, Do you have any special Valentine’s planned yourself this year?

WS:  It will be just before our 30th anniversary, so we should do something special, but I’m not sure what it will be yet!

BTCOLE:  Do you have any works in progress you would like to tell us about?

WendiS:  I’m working on an Austen-Inspired Regency now, but as usual, life keeps getting in the way and it’s not as far along as I’d like it to be. My goal is for it to come out summer 2019. Fingers crossed! It’s untitled as of yet. More than likely, I’ll need others’ help finding a title after I’m finished writing the entire story unless something jumps out at me from the start. Canon timeline is a bit scrambled… Miss Elizabeth Bennet has just
returned from Hunsford, where she stayed with Mr. Collins and his new wife, Charlotte.  We understand she has met Lady Catherine, Anne, and Col. Fitzwilliam, but only caught mention of a "Mr. Darcy" who was another nephew of her cousin’s benefactor. From what she’s heard, he sounds like a male version of Lady Catherine, so she has no interest in meeting him—ever. Soon after her return from Kent, Elizabeth leaves for a holiday trip with the Gardiners. Their journey to the Lake District is redirected when they receive an express letter stating
Mrs. Gardiners’ sister and two nephews have fallen ill, and her brother-in-law desperately needs their help. The trio proceeds to assist the ailing family, who lease a tenant farm on the estate of Pemberley.

BTCOLE:  Anything else you would like to share with the readers here at  Darcyholic Diversions?

WS:  I’d just like to thank all your readers for their interest, and I wish you good luck in the giveaway!

BTCOLE:  And back to you Robin, Do you have any special Valentine’s Day plans for your own Darcy this
year?  Or are  you afraid he will read this post?

RH:  I’ll probably cook some of his favorites. My Mr. Knightley doesn’t eat chocolate, and I’m diabetic, so the obvious choices are out. My hubby is not a Darcy. He has never been a proud man, and he has never been
wealthy by the world’s standards. Everyone loves him. Definitely a hard-working, dependable, genial Mr. Knightley of unimpeachable character, a wonderful husband and the best father I’ve ever seen. He could give lessons in how to be a father.

BTCOLE:  Anything else you would like to let us know about your works in progress?

RH:  More to Love addresses body image. When Darcy first sees Elizabeth at the Assembly, she’s eating a cookie (and, yes, Americans had developed cookie recipes by then). He says, “She is tolerable, I suppose, but
there’s too much of her to tempt me.”  You can imagine how that goes. Ha!

Lawfully Innocent is part of The Lawkeepers series. I’m contributing a book along with many other authors. Mine is an historical romance set in the pre-Civil War South. Benjamin Beckett (youngest of the four Beckett brothers) is a U.S. Marshal for the District of South Carolina. He’s from England, and he’s against slavery.

Maestro is the story from my musician’s heart. Alessandro Landini is a concert artist. He sings, conducts, and plays. Mary Bennet is in London with the Darcys (who are married). Darcy takes Elizabeth and Mary to one of Landini’s concerts, and she is shocked at the depth of the connection she feels with him through the music. In this story, I write how music makes me feel – how it affects me. It may be my best work.

I haven’t yet started my story for A Very Austen Romance: Austen Anthologies, Book 3, but it will, of course, be an historical romance novella. It may be a sequel to I Dream of You, my story in A Very Austen Valentine. I like that idea.

BTCOLE:  Well I thank you both Robin Helm and Wendi Sotis for visiting with us today!  And I hope that all of you readers will begin making some fun plans for Valentines Day inspired from the anthology!

Contact Information:
Robin Helm
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Robin-Helm/e/B005MLFMTG
Website:  BeyondAusten.com https://www.beyondausten.com/
Twitter: @rmhelm
Facebook: Robin Helm https://www.facebook.com/RobinHelmAuthor/
Facebook: Austen Anthologies
Instagram: @jrhelm  or @AustenAnthologies
Goodreads: Robin_M_Helm
Blogging: Robin M. Helm https://robinmhelm.com/

Wendi Sotis
Amazon Author Page:     https://www.amazon.com/Wendi-Sotis/e/B005CSBVFS/
Website: http://wendisotis.com
Facebook: Wendi Sotis, Author https://www.facebook.com/author.wendi.sotis/
Twitter: @WendiSotis
Forum: BeyondAusten.com http://BeyondAusten.com
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5009020.Wendi_Sotis

A Very Austen Valentine Blog Tour Schedule
01/06 Just the Write Escape; Guest Post, Giveaway
01/07 Margie’s Must Reads; Review, Giveaway
01/08 So Little Time…; Guest Post, Excerpt, Giveaway
01/09 Babblings of a Bookworm; Author Interview/Character Interview, Giveaway
01/10 Half Agony, Half Hope; Review, Excerpt
01/11 Austenesque Reviews; Vignette, Giveaway
01/12 My Love for Jane Austen; Vignette, Giveaway
01/13 open
01/14 From Pemberley to Milton; Excerpt, Review or Vignette, Giveaway
01/15 My life journey; Review, Excerpt, Giveaway
01/16 My Vices and Weaknesses; Guest Post or Vignette. Excerpt, Giveaway
01/17 open
01/18 Diary of an Eccentric; Review, Giveaway
01/19 open
01/20 Darcyholic Diversions; Author Interview, Giveaway
01/21 Austenprose; Author Interview

Friday, January 18, 2019

Interview with Jayne Bamber: Happy To Be Her Friend And Not a Family Member!

Interview with Jayne Bamber: Happy To Be Her Friend And Not A Family Member!!

by Barbara Tiller Cole

I am happy to welcome Jayne Bamber to Darcyholic Diversions today!    Her new book, Happier In Her Friends Than Relations, you will find an enjoyable, meaty (at 260k pages), creative read with over half of Jane Austen’s characters who seem to make an appearance at some point during the story!  With a particularly evil Jane, the death of at least one of Pride and Prejudice’s characters and a redemption for Lady Catherine there is a lot here to appreciate!  Hope you enjoy getting to know her and the inspiration for her latest book!

Oh, and be sure to comment AND follow the rafflecopter link for Jayne’s give aways!!  And don’t forget to join Darcyholic Diversions, like my page book page or join our Facebook Group

Rafflecopter Link

Jayne, when did you first discover Jane Austen’s writings?
I discovered Jane Austen in high school, and was instantly hooked.  I have my mom to thank for that - she took my siblings and I to the
library regularly throughout my childhood, and I was an even more avid reader than she had expected - I remember being reminded more than once that it was not appropriate to bring books with me to the dinner table!

I also had a mom who loved to read and spent many happy hours with her at the library as well as sharing books.  While I didn’t bring book to dinner in childhood I have been known to do so these days much to my Darcy’s distress.  When and how did you truly fall in love with Jane’s works?

By college I had read all of Jane Austen's books, and the completion
of Sanditon by 'a lady' was my gateway drug to the wonderful
(addictive!) world of JAFF. In the last dozen years I've read a couple
hundred fanfics, if not more.

Yes, who would have thought there were so many Jane Austen inspired works and the number grows exponentially now that so many people have read and been inspired to write more.  So many Darcyholics out there!

Tell us about your family.

In addition to my bibliophile mother and father, from whom I got my oddball sense of humor, I have a younger brother who is still
finishing up high school, and has been dabbling in writing like his big sister! I have a sister in Colorado who has got me itching to move there myself and hoard all the fuzzy dogs together! I have 2 other sisters here in Texas, who read the book and presumed that the characters of the Parker Sisters were based on them – they weren’t, as they are characters from Sanditon, but I did begin to see the resemblance! I also have wonderful husband of 4 years, who is equal parts Mr. Darcy and Mr. Tilney, and is finishing up his residency here in Houston. No kids, but we have 2 very spoiled fur babies, Ringo and Pearl.

I know that writing is something you are enjoying. Did you or do you have a career outside of writing?

Other than writing, I am in between careers for now. I’ve done all
sorts of things in the best, from waiting tables to insurance,
pharmacy, and a brief (awful!) stint in wedding planning. Most
recently, I was in the hotel industry for 7 years, but took a break to
finish my first novel and get it published. Perhaps writing will be my
new career - that would literally be my dream job!

What inspired you to write Jane Austen inspired literature of your own?I have wanted to write for as long as I've been reading. Like Jane
Austen, I went through a 'juvenilia' phase - lots of emo poetry,
journaling, and early novellas that were entirely too light-hearted. I
started jotting down book ideas more seriously a couple years ago, and eventually my list of ideas started taking shape.

What inspired Happier?
To be honest, it was a bit random. I had wanted to write a JAFF story
for a while, and I was always adding to the list of story scenarios
and ‘what-ifs’ I have – there’s probably enough plot bunnies on there
for a lifetime of writing, finally I decided to just pick one and
start really writing, and this was the one I chose. It started as just
a quick paragraph on my list of ideas, based on the concept of chain
reactions taking place at the beginning, and affecting how Lizzy and
Darcy get together. On Darcy’s side, the chain reactions have to do
with Georgiana’s mischief at Ramsgate, while on Lizzy’s side the chain
reaction begins with Bingley never coming to Netherfield, which leads
to Jane marrying Mr. Collins, and changing her quite a lot as a

In reading your book, I was so intrigued how many of Austen’s
characters you managed to fit into just one book!  And yet, Rebecca
Fitzwilliam is in many ways your central character.  As Emma doesn’t
leave Highbury, she has much of Emma’s determination for matchmaking.
What was your inspiration for her character?

You’re definitely on to something with that! So yes, Rebecca Fitzwilliam is very similar to Emma, so much so that by the end of the book I had decided that the two should be cousins on the maternal side. The first inspiration for Lady Rebecca, though, was actually myself. She started out as my voice in the story, saying what I would have been thinking in any situation – telling off Caroline Bingley when she deserves it, and trying to push Lizzy and Darcy to admit their feelings for one another. Also like myself, she is small, snarky, a bit bougie at times, and fiercely devoted to the ones she loves. She was tremendously fun to write!

That answers SO much about her character in the story and I am sure I would love hanging out with her or with you!  Jane Bennet has never been a favorite character of mine, yet you
appear to really dislike her!  Was there any particular inspiration to create such an evil Jane?

I didn’t always dislike her, though I think at this point it’s going
to be difficult to be difficult to ever write her as a good person, in
future stories! I had originally intended for Jane to get some
redemption, but I posted chapters weekly on A Happy Assembly and
Archive of Our Own as I was writing, and the overwhelmingly positive
reaction I got to Bad Jane encouraged me to take her wickedness past the point of redemption – I have no regrets!

Who is your favorite character in your book?

Oooh, that’s a tough one! Lady Rebecca is dear to my heart, being my own creation, but I suppose it would almost be cheating to prefer a character based on myself. I will say I’m very partial to Mary Bennet and how she develops in this story; I think she has the potential to be the kind of friend Lady Rebecca doesn’t yet realize she needs. I’m also unapologetically fond of Lady Catherine, even in the canon, but definitely with the character arc I’ve given her. I could almost see myself, to quote Oscar Wilde, turning into her in about a hundred and fifty years.
I understand you are looking at doing a sequel to this book.  Will the title be Happiest?  And do you want to give us any hints about what will happen from here?  We have yet to meet the characters from Persuasion?  Will they make a presence in the sequel?

I am planning to do a sequel! In fact, I have plans to make this a
series. The series name is Friends and Relations, and the working
title for the sequel is A Wider Circle of Friends and Relations. The
end of Happier drops a lot of hints about where book 2 will go. Lady
Rebecca will be making good on her threat to Mr. Knightley, to visit
her cousin Emma in Highbury. Mary Bennet will play a larger role in
the story, and there will be a conclusion to where we leave off with
Jane and the damaging information she possesses about Georgiana. We haven’t seen the last of Caroline, either, and we’ll even find out who Harriet Smith’s real parents are, so it should be a wild ride! The
characters from Persuasion and Northanger Abbey have yet to make an appearance, but I do plan on pulling them in to Book 3.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the Darcyholic
Diversions readers?

I’d like to close by thanking everyone who has helped me get to this point! I have made some delightful friends in the JAFF community. I also want to thank everyone who read this story as a work-in-progress on A Happy Assembly and Archive of Our Own. I think that getting so
much positive feedback encouraged me to keep going, when I might not have otherwise done so.  There were times when the comments and responses I got helped shape how the rest of the story developed, and though it turned out differently than I had originally planned, I am so pleased that this was the case. I intend to post updates on my Facebook page as I write, and like I did with Happier, I will absolutely take reader feedback into consideration, so if there is
anything readers want to see in the sequel, I hope they will let me

So I understand you want to share an excerpt of Happier in Her Friends Than Relations with us….

Yes! I’ve talked a lot about Lady Rebecca, who is Richard
Fitzwilliam’s sister, and Darcy’s cousin. The following excerpt is
from her first meeting with Elizabeth Bennet, when they cross paths in the park in London, introduced by their mutual friend Mr. Bingley.

Lady Rebecca rolled her eyes, offering Elizabeth a private smile as she moved closer. “Would you care to join me in walking this way, Miss Bennet? There is a prettyish little sort of wilderness I should like to take a turn in.” 
“It would be my pleasure,” Elizabeth agreed, and her arm was instantly seized by Lady Rebecca, who swiftly steered her away from the others. 
“Indeed I believe it shall be my pleasure, for I have been eagerly anticipating this interview since first I heard of you.” Elizabeth could only gape in astonishment, and Lady Rebecca continued. “Have no fear I am about to warn you off Mr. Bingley, though no doubt that is what his sisters are hoping for. You shall not find a true friend in either of them, whatever they dissemble.” 
Finding her voice at last, Elizabeth replied, “I believe I am under no illusion as to where I stand with Miss Bingley.” 
“Yes, I thought as much. Very good. Mr. Bingley said you were clever, but I must admit he is… easily impressed. I have seen others fooled by certain ladies’ insincerity, and I am glad you suffer no such delusions.” 
“That is very forthright of you, Lady Rebecca. I wonder at your divulging as much to a complete stranger.” 
Pah! I am determined we are to be the best of friends, Miss Bennet, and I must advise you that it is in your best interest to let me have my way in this matter, for I would like to be of assistance to you, if I can. And I must make this perfectly clear, whatever his sisters say, I am certainly not a rival to you for Mr. Bingley’s affections. Does this please you, Miss Bennet?” 
Elizabeth hesitated. “If we are to be friends, might I take the liberty of expressing equal candor with your ladyship?” 
“I should like nothing better.” 
“That is certainly a relief. What is celebrated as frankness in ladies of one station may be scorned as impertinence when exhibited by others of less importance.” 
Lady Rebecca laughed. “I do hope you shall pardon my rank, Miss Bennet.” 
“Perhaps, in time, I shall forgive you for it,” Elizabeth quipped, pausing a moment before answering Lady Rebecca’s question. “To be honest, I have not yet decided the extent to which I welcome Mr. Bingley’s attention. My situation is complicated—recent events… I find I am not myself of late. And if my assumption is correct, his sisters would prefer he marry a lady more like yourself, one who could offer the connections in society they desire.” 
“And I suppose I need not describe to you how very unlikely that event would be? Not merely because my family would disapprove of the match ten times as much as Miss Bingley objects to you—this would really be nothing to me if I believed we would suit, but we do not. I should drive him out of his wits, I am sure, if he did not drive me mad first.” 
Elizabeth gasped, her eyes wide with astonishment at such a speech.  
“I see. Perhaps you like him more than you realize,” Lady Rebecca said with a gentle laugh. “He is a very affable gentleman, but he is not for me, and I would not have his dreadful sisters convince you I am a threat, when in fact you shall find me a most willing ally. It would amuse me very much to thwart those two sour sisters, and if it would bring about Mr. Bingley’s happiness in the process, so much the better!” 
“You are very kind, Lady Rebecca.” 
“Well, Elizabeth, I shall hardly trespass on your privacy by demanding any further answer as to your feelings towards Mr. Bingley— though, of course, should you care to venture any, I should be most willing to listen.” 
“As I said, I am not yet sure.” 
“I understand it is an acquaintance of short duration.” 
“You might say that. I met him at a ball, and he has called but once since then.” 
 “I suspect his sisters will do everything in their power to prevent his calling as often as he may prefer, and he will remain entirely too good-natured to see through their machinations.” 
“I can well believe it. Miss Bingley has made her sentiments quite clear.” 
Strange, when you think about it,” Lady Rebecca mused. “You are the daughter of a gentleman, while his family comes from trade. Any alliance between you would be an elevation for him, whatever your fortune.” 
“Yes, I suppose you are right,” Elizabeth agreed, wondering just how much her new friend already knew about her.  
“You shall find that is often the case, Elizabeth. Now, I shall detain you no longer, for I can see Mr. Bingley is quite eager to have you returned to him, and my brother seems most interested in furthering the acquaintance well. Or perhaps he means to vex Miss Bingley! You will find him a closer match to your wit, I daresay.” 
Elizabeth arched an eyebrow. “And is he your equal in frankness?” 
“No indeed, he is far my superior in that respect! He was a colonel in His Majesty’s army for many years, until this past twelvemonth when our elder brother’s passing elevated him to the position of viscount. He has retained many of the qualities of a military man in spite of his new responsibilities.” 
Lady Rebecca led Elizabeth back to where the rest of the group was walking along the bank of a little stream that ran through the park. Lord Hartley smiled almost as broadly as Mr. Bingley on perceiving their approach. “Miss Bennet, I am delighted my sister has seen fit to return you to us. I trust you two are old friends by now.” 
“Bosom sisters,” Elizabeth replied, hoping her cheer concealed her astonishment at all that had passed in their quarter hour of conversation.  
Rebecca watched with satisfaction as Elizabeth worked her magic on Richard and Mr. Bingley. There was no artifice in the girl’s manners—no, she was perfectly genuine, perhaps unaware of the full extent of her charms. After months of fending off Caroline Bingley’s determined overtures of friendship, Elizabeth Bennet was certainly a breath of fresh air.  
Rebecca hung back from the rest of the group, more interested in observing on this occasion. The Hursts sat a little away from the others on a bench beside the stream, sharing what appeared to be as dull a conversation as one might expect from the two of them. Mr. Bingley had offered Elizabeth his arm and was strutting with pride at having his lady at his side. Richard was walking nearby, speaking with great animation to Elizabeth despite Miss Bingley’s covetous grasp on his arm.
As Rebecca looked on, she felt certain she had made the right decision in offering Elizabeth her friendship. She was poised and graceful, her appearance genteel, without any of the airs that ladies such as Miss Bingley put on. Most importantly, Elizabeth struck her as honest and forthright, and such a person was a rare gem in the fashionable but vicious social circle Rebecca had been born to. There were advantages to her position in the ton, to be sure, but having friends she could trust had never been one of them. 
Too often, Rebecca had found the ladies she thought were her friends were simply using her to get to her brothers, or wooing her and her dowry on behalf of their own brothers. Caroline Bingley, guilty on both counts, was by no means the worst of them, though she was persistent.  
Richard had finally extricated himself from her clutches and seemed to be adorning himself with flowers from a nearby bush, while Elizabeth and Mr. Bingley offered laughing advice. Miss Bingley finally grew vexed enough at their neglect to retreat, seeking out Rebecca to voice her displeasure. 
“Miss Bingley, I rather wonder at your deserting my brother in the midst of such folly,” Rebecca observed. 
Pursing her lips with displeasure, Miss Bingley replied with a haughty sniff. Rebecca smiled, enjoying the sight of Mr. Bingley offering a small crown of flowers to a rapidly retreating goose. Richard shouted his encouragement as Elizabeth laughed and teased them both.  
After a few minutes of strolling sedately behind the others, Miss Bingley observed, “How disappointed I am to have missed your little conversation with Miss Eliza Bennet. I am sure you must have delivered one of your famous set-downs, for she looked entirely discomposed.” 
“Indeed? Why ever would I do such a thing? Have I some tendency, of which I am unaware, towards rudeness?”  
“No indeed, it is only that—well…” 
“Perhaps you believe that I may perceive her as a rival of sorts?” 
“Oh no, there is simply no comparison! She is certainly nothing to your own natural grace and beauty.” 
“That is kind of you. In truth, I am very glad to see that your brother has taken such interest in her. She would be a fine match for him.”  
“Oh, Rebecca, surely you tease me!” 
Rebecca could scarcely suppress her amusement. Perhaps it was wrong to needle Miss Bingley so, but the wretched harpy had brought it on herself. “I assure you, Miss Bingley, I am perfectly serious. Miss Bennet is the daughter of a gentleman. In this regard, she quite outranks your brother, for all his wealth, until such time as he becomes landed gentry. I understand he was quite close to leasing an estate this past autumn. It is such a shame he did not follow through with the plan, for it would have been quite an elevation for him.” 
Miss Bingley scowled. “I believe there were some serious objections to the property. The environs were quite remote, and the neighborhood entirely unrefined, the nearest village hardly deserving of the word.” 
“And yet, it is often the case with large estates that the surrounding townships are smaller and more parochial. It is up to the neighboring landowners to elevate these little villages through commerce and patronage. This is something you must learn, Miss Bingley, if you aspire to such a station yourself. The local village supplies the servants who come to work at the estate, the food and goods that are purchased by the landholders, and the services they often require. Should you like to have your carriage repaired by a craftsman who is bitterly aware that you hold him and all of his acquaintance in contempt? I think not.” Rebecca eyed Miss Bingley triumphantly, as the lady struggled for a reply.  
“What an edifying perspective, Lady Rebecca. I believe I shall collect my brother, for I find I am quite fatigued. I thank you for your company.” Miss Bingley, appearing a little flustered, dipped into a curtsy before making a hasty retreat. 
Rebecca gave a slight nod. “The pleasure has been entirely mine.”