Table of Contents
By the Same Author
About the Author
By the Same Author
The Pemberley Chronicles
The Women of Pemberley
Netherfield Park Revisited
The Ladies of Longbourn
Mr Darcy's Daughter
My Cousin Caroline
Postscript from Pemberley
Recollections of Rosings
The Legacy of Pemberley
Copyright (c) 2010 by Rebecca Ann Collins
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Cover photo (c) Mary Evans Picture Library/Alamy
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The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
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Originally printed and bound in Australia by Print Plus, Sydney, NSW, 2004. Reprinted October 2006.
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Dedicated to all my friends, with love
Becky Tate needs no introduction to readers of the Pemberley novels.
It may, nevertheless, be necessary to explain that this "woman of influence" is
Rebecca Ann Collins, author of the Pemberley Chronicles series.
Lest my readers misconstrue the situation, because I have used her name as my
nom de plume,
I should point out that the central character of this novel is the original Becky Collins, daughter of Charlotte Lucas and Reverend William Collins (from the annals of
Pride and Prejudice
), wife of the publisher Anthony Tate, and a woman of considerable standing in her community.
Her efforts at writing, however, never amounted to much more than scribbling--personal impressions that were, happily for her, regularly printed in her husband's journals and released to a captive audience.
Becky's story is interesting because, like a significant number of Victorian women, she sought to emancipate herself from a tedious and impecunious life by marrying a man of wealth and influence, not because she loved him, but for the advantages and opportunities the marriage offered. The realisation that, in attempting to escape the stifling environment of Victorian domesticity, she had foregone something far more precious than affluence and power, comes upon her gradually. While she admits her mistake and strives valiantly to make something of her marriage, its disintegration is hastened by the loss of a beloved daughter and the apparent indifference of her husband to her grief.
The disapproval of her more fortunate friends serves only to exacerbate her plight, isolating her further. Marriage had clearly brought Becky influence but little contentment and less happiness.
Many women, similarly placed, resorted to clandestine liaisons and extramarital affairs, taking lovers when and where they could, often scandalising their families and compounding their misery. Becky Tate does not.
When, at the beginning of this book, we meet her again, she is a mature woman, who has survived the failure of her early ambitions, suffered loss and humiliation, and, having taken stock of her life, is ready to reclaim her future. The warmth of her relationship with her sister Catherine and the sincerity of her desire to help those less fortunate than herself redeem her from accusations of shallowness and prove more rewarding than the trappings of wealth and influence. It is a situation in which many modern women find themselves.
Therein lies my fascination with her.
I hope my readers will agree and enjoy Becky's story.
For the benefit of those readers who wish to be reminded of the characters in the Pemberley Chronicles series and their relationships to one another, an
is provided in the appendix.
Becky Collins was back at Hunsford, not at the parsonage, where she had spent much of her childhood, endeavouring to fulfill the expectations of her zealous father, Reverend Collins, and avoid the censure of his indomitable patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but at Edgewater--the property in the county of Kent, where she now lived.
She was, of course, no longer Miss Collins; having been married before she was twenty years of age to Mr Anthony Tate, a publisher of some power and influence in the community, she had been considered to be a woman of some rank and substance.
Thanks to the generosity of her husband, who, having separated from his wife, had elected to live out the rest of his days in America, where he had recently died, she was now a reasonably wealthy woman. Having sold their house in London, Becky had acquired Edgewater, an investment that had the universal approval of most if not all of her friends and relations.
Standing at the window of what was to be her private study and work room, Becky looked out across the grounds of her new home and smiled as her eyes took in the lovely aspect across the lake from which the property took its name. There was a singular sense of satisfaction in knowing that everything in this place would be as she had planned it; she no longer took directions from nor waited upon the approval of anyone. Neither was she obliged to submit her accounts to her husband's clerk for payment.
Becky Tate was at last her own woman and she enjoyed that above anything.
For the very first time in her life, Becky had chosen where she was going to spend her time, just as she was now free to decide how that time was to be spent. It was for her an especially thrilling sensation, the likes of which she had not known in many years. Looking at the work she had begun at Edgewater, she could not resist a frisson of excitement as she contemplated the future that lay before her, a future to be determined entirely by her own wishes and limited only by her resources.
Becky was glad to have left Derbyshire. Her son Walter and his family now occupied the Tate residence at Matlock. She had been at Edgewater throughout the Winter, save for a visit to Pemberley at Christmas.
It was February and Winter had not as yet released its hold upon the countryside, though here in Kent it was decidedly warmer than it had been in Derbyshire. While many trees were still bare, but for the merest hint of tender green buds upon their boughs, the ground beneath them was broken by impatient clumps of bulbs pushing up out of the soil--snowdrops and crocuses, amidst drifts of scilla and bright wood anemones that covered the ground under the poplars in the spinney.
Becky loved the haphazard nature of the gardens at Edgewater, where large trees and evergreen shrubs, untamed by the fashionable art of topiary, held sway, while under them and along the edge of the lake, myriad wildflowers bloomed freely, unrestrained by the discipline of a formal garden.
Quite unlike the tidy beds at Hunsford parsonage, which her father had tended, or the hedged formality of Rosings Park in the era of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the grounds at Edgewater appealed to her more spontaneous nature with their lack of orderliness and regulation.
As a young girl, Becky had hated Rosings Park with its innumerable rules and its regiment of retainers all trained to do Her Ladyship's bidding, without question. There had been so many gardeners and minions, she had been afraid to pick a bloom without permission, lest it should disturb the grand pattern of the most celebrated rose garden in the south of England!
Here, it was very different; she could do exactly as she pleased. On an impulse, she decided to go out into the garden and gather some flowers for her study. Collecting a basket and secateurs from a cupboard under the stairs, Becky went out through the side door onto a wide terrace, down the steps, and out toward the lake. There, the flowers were in abundance, stretching as far as she could see, across the water and into the meadows beyond. Clusters of blue scilla in the spinney caught her eye; they were a favourite with her.
She was about to take the path around the lake when her maid, Nelly, appeared, running towards her.
"Please, ma'am, Mr Jonathan Bingley is here to see you," she said.
"Jonathan Bingley? Are you sure, Nelly? Mr Bingley is in Hertfordshire at Netherfield. I know he is, because my sister Catherine and Mr Burnett have travelled there to visit Mr and Mrs Bingley only a few days ago."
But Nelly was adamant.
"Indeed, ma'am, it is Mr Bingley. He said he has come directly from Netherfield to see you, and he says it's a matter of great urgency, ma'am."
Puzzled and incredulous, Becky handed her basket to Nelly and hurried indoors to find Jonathan Bingley standing by the fire in the sitting room. She knew the very moment she set eyes on him, he was the bearer of bad news. Jonathan was wearing full formal black and his handsome face was unusually grave.
As she entered the room, he came towards her at once. Becky did not know what to think, but as her mind raced and her heart thumped in her chest, he took her hand. Becky's hand trembled as he held it; she knew something had happened, but she was afraid to ask the inevitable question.
When he spoke, his voice was low and gentle. "Becky, I am truly sorry to be the bearer of such sad news, but last night your mama, Mrs Collins, was taken ill suddenly and though the doctor was called to her immediately, she took a turn for the worse and passed away just before dawn. Anna has gone with Catherine to Longbourn, and I have come as soon as I could, to take you back to Hertfordshire."
He was gentle and concerned as he broke the news, and as she wept, he held her awhile. When she was calmer and seated herself upon the sofa by the fire, Jonathan offered to get her a glass of sherry or something stronger and when she refused, he went to find the maid and order some tea. All this he did as though it was quite the most ordinary thing to do.
Mrs Charlotte Collins was dead.
She had been ill, intermittently, since a bad bout of influenza in the early Autumn, but had seemed to recover her health. However, a damp, cold Winter had proved too much for her weakened body; pneumonia had set in. Her eldest daughter, Catherine, and her husband, Frank Burnett, had arrived in Hertfordshire only just in time to attend to her before her condition worsened.