BACK TO THE BONNET
By Jennifer Duke
UNCOVER THE SECRET LIFE AND
EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF
MISS MARY BENNET
WHO FIRST MADE THE READER’S
ACQUAINTANCE IN PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
BY JANE AUSTEN
What if Mary Bennet was actually behind the important events of Pride and Prejudice? In Back to the Bonnet, Jennifer Duke explores how the story could look from the unique perspective of plain, overlooked but clever Mary who happens to have inherited a bonnet that allows her to travel in time.
‘Mary Bennet takes matters into her own hands in this hilarious and enjoyable time-travelling version of Pride and Prejudice.’
CRESSIDA DOWNING – THE BOOK ANALYST
“Oh really, Miss Mary!” He lowered his voice and leant closer. “Does convention hold you back? You who deny all conventions of time, twisting it from its proper course?”
Matrimony is not a destiny that attracts plain but clever Miss Mary Bennet.
With her family’s fortunes threatened by their own foolish mistakes, deceptive rogues and the inconvenience of male heirs to her family home, the future looks unstable, even bleak. But Mary possesses a secret weapon . . . a bonnet that allows her to travel in time.
In orchestrating events according to her own inclinations, Mary takes an unconventional route to protect her family from ruin. However, she is unprepared for the dark path down which duty and power will lead her.
In the following excerpt, Jennifer Duke would like to introduce you to Mrs Pepperstock, a character who plays a significant role in the latter part of Mary’s story. But will she prove to be an ally or an adversary?
Excerpt from Volume 2, Chapter 2 – Checkmate
Mrs Pepperstock’s cottage smelt of cabbage. Old cabbage. Back at Longbourn, Jane was in bed with a severe chill. She had asked me to visit Mrs Pepperstock in her stead, as the old woman would be expecting our contribution to her winter supplies. If the request had come from anyone else, I might have found a way to refuse.
I set the basket on the table and took out bottles, jars and cloth-wrapped bundles. She wiped two cups with a rag that might once have been white and, no sooner had I put her medicinal gin on the table than she was pouring what she called ‘a healthy dose’ of it into one of the cups.
“You?” she said, pointing at me with the gin bottle. “You look as though you could use some.”
“I don’t drink,” I replied. “I prefer to keep a clear head.”
“Is it clear now?”
It wasn’t. It was far from clear. I had spent the whole walk to Mrs Pepperstock’s cottage worrying about how life would be for Charlotte when she married and wondering when I might next see her after the event took place. Still, despite my sombre mood, I felt no inclination to touch the bottle which Mrs Pepperstock planted on the table before me.
“My friend is going to be married,” I explained.
“Ah.” Mrs Pepperstock nodded. “He’s a violent man, this man she’s to wed?”
“A poor man then?”
“Then – I don’t understand – why are you sorry that she’s to be wed?”
“She doesn’t love him and, whilst I wouldn’t like to call him a fool . . .” I sighed. “He’s a fool. He’ll never understand her nor value her true worth.”
She drained her glass. “Will she have a roof over her head? Food on her table?”
“Yes. Of course she will.”
“Have I ever told you my story, young missy?”
I shook my head, realising how little I knew of this woman, excepting her poverty, her tendency to thieve, her old vegetable aroma and her penchant for gin.
“My father was a gentleman.” She straightened her back, sitting tall, chin raised. “There, I see that I have surprised you. I was indeed a gentleman’s daughter, such as you yourself are. Being his only child to have survived infancy and possessing a degree of prettiness, I had as large an array of admirers as I could have wished for. I got engaged to a colonel with golden hair. He danced with the lightness of foot of a spring lamb. I imagined marrying him and our son one day inheriting my father’s estate. However, before I had the chance to marry or beget an heir, the extent of my father’s debts was revealed and he died, some say of too much good company.”
“But you still married the colonel?”
“Not that fickle b—d, no.” She laughed, shewing her few remaining teeth. “Oh, your face, miss! I should think that’s a word you’ve never heard let alone said. Why don’t you give it a try?”
“No thank you.” I gave her a hard look. Illegitimacy was not something I wished to think about. However, I could not help my thoughts drifting to Mr Collins and the suspicions about his parentage.
She laughed a dry, crackly laugh. “Anyway, the estate passed to a distant male relation I never knew I’d had and the colonel skulked off. This relation took no pity on me but forced me to leave the property. I staid at one friend’s house, then another’s, then another’s until my whole acquaintance disowned me. Down to my last few coins, I was forced to go about the streets of Wapping begging. Then one day a pedlar comes by and the next thing I knew was that we were married.”
Here I expected her story to reach a happier point. Her message to me was surely going to be that adverse situations are bound to improve. “So he was Mr Pepperstock? He owned this cottage?”
“Oh no, missy, not he. He was Mr Prince. No woman in history ever emptied the piss pot of a more overbearing, vile creature as he was. Still, he put a roof of sorts over my head. I had no wish for him to sell me.”
“Sell you?” I gaped at her.
“To Mr Pepperstock.” She sloshed more gin into her cup. “One day Prince put a rope about my neck and dragged my sorry bones to the market square where he met Mr Pepperstock. Money changed hands and from that day on I was Mrs Pepperstock and Prince was free to marry another poor creature.”
“But that’s not legal!” I exclaimed.
She shrugged. “I’m not the first wife to be sold in such a way and I doubt I’ll be the last.”
“But Mr Pepperstock,” I said, determined for this story to have a positive ending, “he was a decent man, was he not?”
“Well, he made a pretty decent prize fighter when we lived at Wapping, though he spent more than he won. In time, he stole a horse and took it into his head to be a highwayman, which turned out well at first.” She took another gulp of gin. “Until he was caught and hanged, that is. I fled from his creditors, taking enough of his business profits to purchase this place.”
I looked around at the cottage bought from the proceeds of theft, violence and probably murder.
“For a long while, it was just me and the cat. Of all my companions in life, he was the one I loved the most and the one who shewed me the most love in return. Until the day he ate a poisoned rat and died.”
At this, I grabbed the bottle of gin and took several long gulps, the drink burning its way down my throat.
“You see, no matter how bad things are, they can always be worse.”
“I see. I am much obliged to you, Mrs Pepperstock,” I said hoarsely, picking up the basket. “Your riches to rags tale was most edifying. Enjoy the calf’s foot jelly, it’ll spare your few remaining teeth.”
“I prefer drink to food,” she said raising her cup to me before I closed the door.
I left in a greater fog of low spirits than I had arrived in, seeing in Mrs Pepperstock’s story how easily one’s fortunes can spiral downwards. Still, poor as she was, she had made herself a woman of property.
Jennifer Duke grew up in Basingstoke – a town in Hampshire, England, which Jane Austen visited for shopping and balls when her family lived in the nearby village of Steventon. Loving stories from a very early age and being the second of four sisters, Jennifer delighted in reading stories to her younger siblings.
She went to Bath Spa University to study English Literature with Creative Writing and gained a 2:1, later going on to achieve a distinction for her MA in English Literature at Oxford Brookes University.
She has had many jobs – including coffee barista, trainee English teacher, nursery nurse, nanny, housekeeper and dog walker – but kept returning to writing fiction.
A longstanding love of Jane Austen’s novels led to her first published novel Back to the Bonnet.
As well as writing, she is interested in mindfulness, environmental issues and painting. She loves animals, history, art, travel and being out in nature. Currently, she is working on a fantasy novel inspired by ancient art at Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cave in the south of France, a story set 35,000 years ago – a slight change from Regency England! She also has plans to write a post world war two romance inspired by Jane Eyre.
Back to the Bonnet is available now on Amazon in paperback and Kindle eBook formats.
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Goodreads page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20726109.Jennifer_Duke
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Amazon Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/Back-Bonnet-Jennifer-Duke/dp/B08HT5639T