I have been running a series of author interviews on my Jewish historical fiction blog and often pose a particular question to my guests. Are you a panster or a plotter? I am most definitely a plotter, needing an outline and a spreadsheet with dates, names and personality traits. That being said, there comes a point, while one is furiously typing away, that the characters take over. Their own unique voice will be heard, even if that means deleting the last chapter and rewriting the trajectory for the entire story. Mrs. Meyerson is one such character in The Meyersons of Meryton. But rather than tell you about the ‘rebbetzin,’ allow me to introduce you to the rabbi’s wife, as I conduct a brief interview with Hertfordshire’s newest arrival.
Host: Greetings, Mrs. Meyerson and welcome to my blog post.
Guest: Thank you, my dear. Pray forgive my ignorance. I am not at all familiar with your modern-day colloquialisms.
Host: I do apologize, madam. A blog is —well, the arrangement is of little consequence. Suffice it to say, you are joining us today to discuss your arrival to Meryton. Tell me, what was your first impression of that small market town?
Guest: It certainly was vastly different from London, nonetheless, we were greeted graciously by the Bennet family of Longbourn on our first night. We had the Gardiners to thank for that—delightful couple. I was later pleasantly surprised when we met the congregants of the little synagogue, and understood straight away, the importance of my husband’s presence in that village.
Host: Vastly different from London, you say? Pray tell! What did you miss the most? The routs? The balls? The fashionable society?
Guest: Oh no, my dear! We lived in Cheapside—not quite the center of fashionable society. Do not misunderstand me. We had our share of good company. My cousin—rather distant, needless to say—is Moses Montefiore. He and his lovely new bride, Judith, are related to Nathan Rothschild by marriage. I have had the privilege of collaborating with Mrs. Montefiore in doing charitable works within the Jewish community. As to your question, I miss my family naturally. I miss my many acquaintances. And I miss the good work, the tzedakah, I was privileged to undertake. But God is good! Baruch Hashem! I have made new friends in Meryton and have been kept busy with… perhaps, it is best, my dear, if I do not delve into matters that might be too delicate in nature.
Host: Let’s change the subject then. Tell me of your new friends, the Bennets. As a mother of five yourself, what did you think of their daughters?
Guest: Oh! The Bennets! What a delightful family! They were a God-send to us. Jane is an angel, a sweet angel. What more can I say? Mary reminds me of a beautiful, but untended, flower. A bit of attention and some loving kindness is all she needs. Lydia, poor dear, was a whirling dervish when I met her—a Chanukah dreidel spinning out of control! Kitty, or Catherine as I prefer to call her, has been like a daughter to me. In some ways, she has also been my teacher. As the rebbetzin, I am called to lead the women of my husband’s congregation. I am supposed to be learned in the ways of our culture. I am expected to be a good example for the women of my faith. But Catherine reminded me of something very important, when I lost my way, and I am truly grateful.
Host: But you have only mentioned four, Mrs. Meyerson. I believe you forgot someone.
Guest: Heaven’s no! I left Elizabeth for last. Elizabeth is a true ‘Eishet Chayil‘—a Woman of Valor. I realize that the proverb usually is sung to honor the mother, or the matriarch of the house; nonetheless, Elizabeth has earned this title in my eyes. She exudes the qualities which are attributed to such a woman: Feminine strength, intelligence, wit, and compassion. Even so, I witnessed how she struggled, how she fought to overcome her less than admirable traits, and this made her even more estimable in my eyes. Her worth is far beyond that of rubies, as I am certain Mr. Darcy would agree.
Host: I have no doubt! Now, in order to entice my audience further, what do you say to my sharing a snippet of the story?
Guest: Only a snippet? I suppose it will have have to do, though I do enjoy a good, long read! I believe someone wiser, and more clever than I, once wrote: if a book is well written, I always find it too short. But carry on, my dear, carry on!
It was many hours later, in the darkest part of night, when a series of harried knocks were heard upon the door that caused the Bennet family to stir in alarm.
“What is it, Mr. Bennet? Who is at the door?” cried Mrs. Bennet pulling the bedclothes under her chin.
“I have not a clue, but I doubt we will learn the meaning of this rude interruption by hiding under the linens!” Mr. Bennet declared in a huff as he pulled on his dressing gown and stuffed his feet into his slippers. Carefully managing the staircase as he held a flickering chamberstick in one hand and wiped the sleep out of his eyes with the other, the master found himself at his front door just as Hill came from behind with a few coins from the household funds at the ready.
“For the runner, sir,” she said with a shaky curtsey.
“Thank you, Hill,” he replied gratefully, for he had not thought of compensating the errant messenger.
Mrs. Hill bobbed once more and stumbled back to her quarters as the master made quick work of opening the door. The messenger grinned an apology at the lateness of his arrival. Handing over the missive, he touched his cap and bounded off into the night. Mr. Bennet, now fully awake and justifiably curious, held his hand high and allowed the candle to illuminate a path to his library. Once there, he quietly shut the door, sat down in his familiar welcoming chair and was adjusting his spectacles when Mrs. Bennet came rushing in, followed by his two eldest daughters.
“How cozy you are, Mr. Bennet!” cried she. “With no consideration to my poor nerves, you have sequestered yourself without further thought of your wife or children who lay trembling in their beds. What has happened?” she beseeched. “Is it from Lydia?”
As he unfolded the object in question, Mr. Bennet peered over his spectacles and looked at his girls. “Jane? Lizzy? Were you all a tremble?”
“No indeed, sir, but we are anxious to know what news comes at this hour,” Elizabeth replied, taking hold of her sister’s hand.
The women gathered in front of Mr. Bennet as he silently read through the brief message. Satisfied that he was at liberty to share the contents, he cleared his throat and turned to his fretful wife. “I trust you have ordered a good dinner for tomorrow evening, my dear, for I have just been informed we may expect an addition to our family party.”
“Pray, who would be so indelicate as to awaken us in the middle of the night for such a matter? Who, may I ask, wishes to trespass on our hospitality without so much as a by your leave?”
“‘Tis your brother who has written…”
“Edward? Whatever is he about?”
“If you would but calm yourself and allow me to read the letter, all will be explained.”
Jane gently guided her mother to a seat, as Elizabeth lit the candles on the mantelpiece to better illuminate their surroundings. Mr. Bennet hemmed and hawed before commencing:
Gracechurch Street, London
Dear brother, I know you will understand when I say things are well in hand here in town. I have met with Mr. Moses Montefiore and found him to be the best of men, brilliant as he is honorable! Upon his expert understanding of the current situation, Mr. Montefiore conveys the Meyersons to your good care. This letter is to be accepted as means of an introduction for the rabbi and his family into Meryton society. You can expect a party of three—husband, wife and child—to arrive by four o’clock on Wednesday. I have assured them of my sister’s fine hospitality, but tell Fanny not to fuss for their accommodations; they will only be staying the night. Montefiore has made arrangements for a living to be had in town. Fanny, I have no doubt, will be happy to know the Meyersons have need to be settled in that establishment by Friday afternoon! Now, with regards to…
Mr. Bennet stopped at this juncture, folding and placing the letter most purposefully in his pocket. “I believe therein lies the crux of the matter. The rest involves business that I will need to attend in the coming weeks.”
“How extraordinary!” exclaimed Jane. “Whatever does my uncle mean by ‘things are well in hand in town’?”
“Are you at liberty to divulge anything further on these people and their business in Meryton?” Elizabeth asked, covering a yawn with the back of her hand. “Who is this Montefiore? Can he be a sensible man, ushering these people to us in this manner?”
Mrs. Bennet had more pressing matters to discuss and would not be silenced. “We are in the midst of planning our daughters’ weddings! My poor nerves cannot take much more agitation, Mr. Bennet. What does my brother mean by sending strangers to our home? And what, pray tell, is a rabbi?”
The hour being late and with no desire to entertain any further debate, Mr. Bennet stood and waved his hand, signaling towards the door. “Off with the lot of you. Tomorrow is another day and it will come soon enough. I am to bed and will brook no argument, Mrs. Bennet. Good night, Jane. Good night, Lizzy,” he said, with a kiss to each daughter’s brow.
Elizabeth blew out the candles and followed her father and sister as they wearily climbed towards their warm and welcoming beds. Mrs. Bennet, alone in the darkened room, sat down on Mr. Bennet’s favorite chair and indulged in a good cry, presumably relieving her poor nerves.
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