Dear readers, tonight with us is a character out of Jane Austen’s novels, who found that life continues beyond her original appearance. She is here to tell us about love and murder during the Regency.
Well, Miss Bennet, you have had an interesting little adventure. As magistrate in these parts, I need to gather a bit more information to write my report. It is not every day that a young woman of your tender years solves a mystery like this, and the murder of a clergyman as well. We were all quite shocked. I have a few questions, if you do not mind. First, I need to know a bit about you. Your home, for example.
Thank you, sir. Of course I will answer anything you need. My home is a small estate called Longbourn, in Hertfordshire. It has a small village, but the closest town of any size is Meryton, a mile yonder. I suppose it is not so different from many other market towns, and we have a good selection of shops and necessary provisions, as well as a fine set of assembly rooms. We lack for little, and in this modern age (for it is 1811, of course), we can travel to London in the course of half a day.
Your home sounds not out of the usual, but there must be something that has formed you into the person you are. What of your childhood? What has shaped you to be able to solve these horrid crimes?
I cannot imagine myself anything particularly special. Indeed, I grew up thinking myself not special at all. I am the middle of five daughters, after all. I am not pretty like my two older sisters, nor am I spirited and outgoing like the younger two. I would rather read then attend parties, and I have little interest in ribbons and lace or flirting with the officers from the milia regiment. I quite often feel rather invisible!
As a child, I retreated into the comforting words of scripture and sermons. They helped me make sense of the world and shaped my sense of morality. A young woman’s behaviour reflects not only on her, but on all her relations, and must be well regulated.
I also sought refuge in the pianoforte. I begged Papa to allow me to learn, and I had a great desire to become proficient. Perhaps, if I could play the most difficult pieces, people would pay attention to me and laud me.
I know not whether these shaped me, but perhaps they gave me the discipline to examine the clues I found so as to solve the mystery of Mr. Collins’ murder.
What do you propose to do now? Surely solving murders is not an appropriate activity for a gentlewoman of your tender years. Will you return to playing the pianoforte?
Oh no, sir! I can hardly credit it. It was a grand adventure, but you are correct. I am expected to act within my station, and with all propriety.
And yet I find the whole affair was stimulating. I should never wish to see such violent death again, nor do I rejoice in the cause of the investigation, but I have never felt so useful before in my life. I have never felt so needed, so important, so alive. I know I should be pleased to have this experience to remember in the years to come, and yet a part of me hopes that it might not be the last time I can put my meagre skills to work for so useful a purpose.
Very good. I shall make notes of all of this. Now, on to the crux of this interview. Here I must make good notes for my report. What can you tell us about these terrible events?
Oh, sir, I shudder even now to think of it. It started, as you know, when my cousin Mr. Collins was discovered dead in a field near Longbourn. He had been killed with a knife, and that knife turned out to belong to my sister Elizabeth. She had been out on the day Mr. Collins died, and she returned home injured and covered in blood. This, when seen with the evidence of the knife, brought her to the attention of the local authorities, who came to charge her with the death.
Of course, I could not let that happen! Elizabeth could never kill anybody. I knew I had to do whatever I could to save my dear sister. Then there were the missing candlesticks and the lost maid, and I found myself in the middle of a great mystery that needed solving.
I know you were not alone in this investigation, and I shall interview the others separately. But please, tell me of your colleague in this investigation. What were your thoughts when he first arrived?
Oh! That annoying man. Yes, Alexander Lyons. Forgive me. Mama admonishes me not to roll my eyes, and I do try to heed her words, but sometimes the effort is more than I am equal to.
When Mr. Lyons first arrived, we had no idea what to think of him. He is a professional investigator from London, engaged by Mr. Darcy to look into this same murder.
I should have welcomed his presence, but Mr. Lyons was… vexing. He was rude and condescending. He insulted me, and worse…
He is Scottish and I believe he is Presbyterian!
But I heard some information which I knew would be of use to his own investigations, and I insisted upon being heard, no matter than he might think me only a silly girl. In this, I would not be denied. In the end, he listened, and we used our individual pieces of evidence to come to a solution.
Very well. I should be interested to hear his account of the events. After all, you did work together to solve this crime. At least you, as a young woman, were never in physical danger, nor in the presence of a threat.
If I may, sir, that is not entirely correct. I shall leave the particulars to Mr. Lyons, but there did come a time in our investigation when I gravely feared for my safety, and for the lives of others. A great many people were involved, and not all of them the right sort, if you know what I mean. I confess, at that moment, I was quite terrified, as much for my friend as for myself. I shall never be rid of that awful memory, no matter that it may lighten in time.
I can see my questions are distressing you. Forgive me. I shall find out the details when I speak with the others later. Here, have some tea. Better? Good. Let us speak of lighter things for a time. Tell me more about your town. What is the worst thing about living in a place such as Meryton? Do not worry. I shan’t divulge your confession.
I used to feel it the best place in the world, but then I knew nothing else. But I see now how, in so small a community, one has no secrets. One’s entire life is lived out in the common eye. When Elizabeth was first accused, I believe the neighbours heard the news before she herself did. Why, when I went to Netherfield – that is the estate on the other side of the town – to find Mama’s lost scarf, I was sent directly down to the kitchens, for the family would not hear of the sister of a murderer being in the house. Of course, it was for the good, for that was where I heard some of the first clues I needed… but I digress.
I sometimes long for the anonymity of the city, or even larger town such as Hertford, where we are now.
It cannot be all bad. What is the best thing about it?
I should make a jest and say exactly the same thing! Everybody knows everybody’s business. That means that one is never alone. There is always somebody to look out for you. There is always a friendly and familiar face, wherever you go. The farmers wave their greetings, the serving girls at the tavern greet you by name when they pass you in the street, and every old lady always has a cup of tea and lavender biscuits for you when you pay a visit. Unless one desires solitude, there is never a need to be lonely.
Have you many friends in the town? With whom do you spend your time, when not at home?
I had imagined myself to be much of a solitary person before, but my recent adventure with Mr. Lyons has shown me that there is something to be said for a more social nature. I enjoy the company of others of my age – Maria Lucas, for example, or Miss Margaret Durham over at Bowridge, near Oakham. Margaret is a particular friend. She is exactly not the sort to be considered the heroine of a novel, for she is sickly and with weak eyes, and she had a rather pronounced limp as a result of a childhood illness. But when she is not quiet and meek and feels at ease with her company, she can be most excellent company, for she has a most outrageous sense of humour. If ever I shall leave these parts, she is one I shall miss the most.
You speak of leaving these parts. Do you have expectations? For surely, a young lady leaves her home when she becomes a wife. May I ask…?
Oh! I dare protest, sir! This is not a question for a young woman. Have some consideration for propriety! I have no expectations in that area whatsoever, and certainly not from Mr. Lyons, if you were going to ask about him. Although, he is rather handsome, and I have a bit of fondness for red hair, such as he has. There were times, when he spoke in that strong Scottish accent he has, that I imagined him standing on a hillside somewhere up north with a kilt whipping about his bare knees in the wind… But no! I shall not answer. Not at all.
You have spoken about what you enjoy. What do you – if I may use so strong a word – hate?
I hate injustice. It is a strong word, but it is a strong emotion. I hate hypocrisy. I hate people who say one thing and do another. So many of my arguments with Mr. Lyons revolve around this need I have for justice, my deep sense of right and wrong, my need for integrity. And he perplexes me, because as much as he claims not to be Christian, he has the strongest sense of good that I have ever known in a man. Whereas Mr. Collins, a parson, a minister of the Church, was… not so upstanding a man as his position ought to imply.
I am afraid I have upset you once more, Miss Bennet. Here, more tea? Is tea your preferred drink? What more do you enjoy, that we have not yet mentioned?
Thank you, tea will do very nicely. I do enjoy a cup, and lemonade. And on occasion, only when completely suitable, of course, a small sip of wine is not unacceptable. I believe one of the things I like most about wine is the colour. When you have the right bottle, that beautiful deep red is glorious. Pour the wine into a clear crystal goblet and hold it up to a window or a lamp, and that colour glows, almost purple. If I were older and allowed to wear deep colours, I should have a gown made of that same deep wine red, for I believe the colour would suit me. But I am only eighteen, and must limit my wardrobe to pale colours suitable for a young woman. Perhaps, if I were to learn painting, I should make an entire picture just with shades of deep red. That would bother Mama a great deal, but I have learned to live with her nerves. And then I should retire to my little salon at the back of the house with a novel from the lending library and a cup of chocolate procured from the kitchens, and wrap myself up in a blanket and read until at last, somebody seeks me to come to dinner.
Do you expect to have much time to read? Or have you other plans for the coming months?
My sister Elizabeth is to marry Mr. Darcy, and I shall be quite busy helping to prepare for the wedding. And then there is talk of travelling to Brighton with my youngest sister Lydia. She is to go with the regiment there in the spring, as the companion to the colonel’s wife, and I have never seen that part of England. Fortunately, being under the colonel’s protection as we shall be, and surrounded by camps of gentlemen officers, I foresee no more troubles such as we experienced here so recently. I believe I shall even return home all by myself – a grand adventure indeed. That will be in May of next year, 1812. It will be lovely, I know it, and perfectly safe.
Before you go, Miss Bennet, I have one more question. This is not for the report, but for my curiosity alone. I foresee great things for you, and I would love to be privy to a secret, something you can tell me that you have never told another person. I collect such information purely in my mind, to see whether my predictions about people’s future success have any validity.
I blush to even think this. It is not a secret, exactly, but certainly something which I would not confess to another, save possibly my sister Elizabeth. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to be seen. I mean, really seen, not just glanced over and ignored. What would it be like to be the centre of attention, to have people come with particular purpose of being with me? What would it be like to be popular? I tell myself I am being a silly child, but I do sometimes dream…
Perhaps, just perhaps, when I go to Brighton in the spring, I shall attempt to put myself out there a bit and see what it is like to stand in the sun, out of the shadows.
Riana Everly is the pen name of a South African-born Canadian author and poet. She now lives with her family in Toronto, and to the amazement of herself more than anyone, finds she rather likes it. When she is not writing, she can often be found playing string quartets with friends, biking around this beautiful province with her husband, trying to improve her photography, thinking about what to make for dinner, and, of course, reading! She can also often be found sneaking chocolate when she thinks no one is looking.
You can find Miss Bennet on the pages of Death of a Clergyman, and the rest of the Miss Mary Investigates books (as well as Riana’s Pride and Prejudice Variations).
Join us next week to hear from a prisoner in the far future. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.