It’s been a year in the making, but we’re finally here! Mrs. Drummond’s School for Girls is now available on Amazon, and soon on NOOK and KOBO as The Trouble to Check Her. (Thanks again Rida for the title suggestion!)
If you’d ever asked me if I would write a book about Lydia Bennet there’s no doubt I would have told you absolutely I would NEVER, EVER write about Lydia Bennet.
I mean, serious, no one likes Lydia Bennet. Not readers, not me and on most days I’m pretty sure even Jane Austen didn’t like her either.
I certainly didn’t want to spend time with her in my head, didn’t want anything to do with her. Ever.
Done, ’nuff said, right?
Why would I spend time writing about a character NO ONE wants to read about, especially where there’s Elizabeth and Darcy to write about…
And why is it that when I say things like that I always end up eating my words?
Lydia insisted, and a little epilogue wouldn’t hurt right? Just a little scene of what happened when Mr. Darcy sent her off and I’d be done with her.
Lydia became petulant and insisted she had a story to tell…and boy did she ever! There were so many things I never suspected about her–so many reasons she was the way she was.
I became sympathetic toward her, and everything changed. Suddenly I really wanted to be around her and there was little choice but to tell her tale!
She finally had her share in the conversation.
As a writer, I have to say, every story I write changes me, but this one more so than most. In learning about Lydia, I learned a great deal about myself, about writing, and about readers. The experience has been unforgettable, and I’m grateful for it.
I’d never have written this tale, had it not been for all the support of the readers here. So, thanks to all of you who urged me to write this story and joined me on the roller coaster ride that was Mrs. Drummond’s School for Girls. I can’t wait for our next journey together!
To celebrate this launch, I have two ebook copies of The Trouble to Check Her to giveaway to commenters on this post.
Here’s a taste from the first chapter, to whet your appetite for Lydia’s journey:
The carriage turned down a short drive leading to a large quaint house set off the road. The sign in front read: Summerseat Abbey, and in smaller letters, Girl’s Seminary.
So this was Mrs. Drummond’s school for girls.
Covered in dark vines, it might have been cheerful in the spring when everything was green and blooming. But with autumn’s approach, everything was drying brown and crunchy. Messy looking and imposing.
Who would want to enter such a grumpy sort of building, much less live there? Was everyone there as disagreeable as the edifice? If Miss Fitzgilbert was any indication, they were.
If only she might go home.
Miss Fitzgilbert jumped down from the chaise, smiling as though this were the most wonderful house she knew. Proof indeed she was a fool.
Lydia stepped down lest the bossy girl pull her out by force.
“Do not dawdle! Miss Drummond waits for you.” She beckoned and led Lydia inside.
The vestibule was unremarkable, giving way quickly to a short corridor and a closed oak door upon which Miss Fitzgilbert knocked, thrice.
“You may enter.” The voice was old—not old and frail, but old and overbearing like Lady Catherine’s.
The room was polished and tidy and so proper it might scream out in pain if one breathed wrong.
Had the temperature suddenly dropped? Lydia ran her hands over her arms.
The woman behind the desk matched the room, starched and stiff. The curls peeking beneath her mobcap might have been lacquered in place and her tiny eyes flashed like jet beads.
Was there anyone more formed by nature to be a harsh school mistress?
“Miss Lydia Bennet?”
“Yes, madam.” She curtsied, knees quaking.
Compared to this harridan, Aunt Gardiner was positively gracious.
“You may sit.” She pointed at a hard chair. “Miss Fitzgilbert, pray see her things are taken to
“Yes, madam.” She curtsied and left, closing the door behind her.
The room was so quiet. Was it possible to hear someone blink?
Mrs. Drummond blinked very loudly. “I suppose you think you have been sent to me because your benefactors are heartless and wish to spoil your fun.”
Why did it sound so awful when she said it?
Lydia stammered sounds that refused to shape into words.
“I thought as much.” She drummed her fingers upon her brightly polished desk. Not a paper out of place, nor a bit of dust marring the surface. “So we may add ungrateful to your list of sins.”
“My … my … list of what?” Lydia’s eyes grew wide.
“I am hardly surprised that you would be completely insensible to your blessings.” She pushed her glasses up higher on her nose.
“You are sitting there, feeling sorry for yourself, missing your home, family and friends, and I suppose, your paramour as well.”
“I … I … I suppose.”
What was so wrong with missing the things and people she wanted?
“Have you forgotten your father cast you out? You have no home.”
“That is not true.” She slammed her hands on the arms of her chair.
“I am afraid it is. You may see it in his own hand.”
“But … but …”
Mrs. Drummond shoved a piece of paper at her lined with Papa’s thin, spidery letters.
In all matters regarding her future, refer to Mr. Darcy. We wash our hands of her.
“He cannot mean that!”
“I cannot judge what he does or does not mean, only what he has written.”
“I am his daughter. He cannot turn me out.”
“Again, I can only follow the instructions I am sent.”
Papa allowed Lady Catherine to carry Lizzy off without protest. Her face turned cold and tingly.
“My sisters! They surely will not abandon me. Jane and Mary are to be married …”
“It will be their husbands who decide if you are received in their homes or not.”
Mr. Bingley was willing to invite Lizzy into his home. Surely he would accept her, would he not?
“Jane will, surely she will.” She gripped the unyielding edge of the desk.
“Perhaps that is true, but unless you have means to travel, you shall stay here until you are sent for.”
“There must be some way for me to leave if … if …”
“You may see the letter your benefactor, Mr. Darcy, sent me.”
“Stop calling him that! It is his fault—”
“That you are not married?”
“Yes, exactly. I should be mistress of my own home right now, not in some horrid school for girls.”
“Then you are free to go.” Mrs. Drummond gestured to the door, her voice as calm and level as when Lydia first walked in.
“I have no money.”
“That is your concern, not mine.”
“Mr. Darcy paid you—”
“To accept you as a student. If you leave my establishment now, I will return that money to him. That sum is not yours, nor has it ever been.” She met Lydia’s gaze with a steely, Lady Catherine glare.
Cruel woman, she had no feelings! Lydia rose and paced around the room.
“So, Miss Bennet, will you be staying?”
She wrapped her arms tightly around her waist. “I have no choice.”
“Yes you do—you always have a choice. You may not prefer the alternatives, but you are making a choice.”
Lydia harrumphed. “I will stay—for now.”
“Do not make the mistake of thinking your presence is any boon to me. If you leave, I have sufficient applications that it would not be a week before I would have another girl in your place. Your family knows what a difficult, disagreeable child you are. It will be no reflection on my school. Realize, though, if you run away, no one will go after you. I will, of course, send a letter to your benefactor and he may mount efforts for your recovery. But you will not be permitted within these walls again.”
“I cannot believe—”
“That is what happened to the girl whose place you are taking.”
“No, surely, you—”
“Yes, and she was the daughter of a viscount.”
Lydia clutched the back of the nearest chair.
“If you intend to stay, sit down. Otherwise, you know the way out.”
Knees trembling, Lydia perched on the hard chair.
“You have made a wise choice, Miss Bennet. The first in what I hope will be a long series of wise choices. Now, let me acquaint you with our ways.”
Why did she look like a cat about to deliver the death bite to a mouse in her claws?
“All of your fellow students are like you, gently bred females who do not deserve the title of lady. Every one of you has given her virtue and her good reputation away. You are also blessed with someone who cares enough to attempt to restore you to some level of decency and thereby offer you a future you are unworthy of.”
“But … but I am—”
“I do not care, Miss Bennet. No one here does. Most of the girls here come from positions much higher than yours. By your actions, you treated your status as meaningless, so we shall do likewise.”
“Need I remind you?”
Lydia looked down and pressed the back of her hand to her mouth.
If only she had been allowed to marry! She would be the guest of honor at balls and parties and would be serving tea in her own parlor right now. Some day she would pay Mr. Darcy back for sending her here.
“Our first rule is that students neither refer to their rank nor their family’s status. Special privilege here exists only to those who earn it. Do I make myself clear?”
“Y … yes madam.”
“I do not enforce many rules with my cane, Miss Bennet, but this one I do. I offer no warnings, no second chances on this point. If you are in violation of this directive, you will be punished.”
“But I have never—”
Mrs. Drummond flashed a brief, strained smile that might have cracked her face had she held it any longer. “Shame that, it might have kept you from your current dilemma. Nonetheless, you would not be the only girl who received her first licks of the cane by my hand.”
Lydia blinked rapidly, eyes burning. What a horrid woman.
“Do not look so distressed, Miss Bennet. You merely need obey the rule to avoid punishment.”
“Now for the rest. While we intend to provide you with the necessary accomplishments for a young lady, due to your circumstances, we find it necessary to add additional components to your education. As it is quite possible you will fail to improve, we must prepare you for the options that will be open to you.”
“A life of service, and possibly poverty—but hopefully not crime.”
Those were options?
“What are you saying?”
“Every morning, you shall rise and see your room properly tended to. Afterwards, you shall report downstairs. We keep only a minimal staff, so you shall be assigned to one of them to assist in her chores.”
“I am to be a maid?”
“Perhaps when you leave here, you will. I do not know. Regardless, you should have household skills, either to use for gainful employment or in preparation for managing your own home.”
“I have not—that is I do not know how—”
“I expected as much. My staff has trained many ignorant girls, and they shall train you. Following chores, you will report for breakfast, then lessons. We teach reading, writing, drawing, arithmetic, geography and French. I have just employed a new music master, so music lessons will be scheduled as well. I expect diligent application to your work. You might not be a scholar, but all my girls can and will work hard.”
Driven like farm mules was more like it.
“After a brief respite for luncheon, afternoons are assigned to our charitable efforts.”
“On Mondays, we visit the foundling home. Tuesdays, we bring succor to the women in gaol. Thursdays, we provide lessons for the children in the work house. Fridays, we visit the parish alms houses to assist the unfortunates living there. Wednesdays and Saturdays, we sew and mend garments for those in need as well as anything that needs mending in the house.”
“Is there no free time?”
“Since you have made very poor choices during idle time, Miss Bennet, I see little need for it. Still, the time after dinner and half a day Sunday, after holy services, is allowed for rest.”
How could she possibly survive such demands? Mama had not even required she be awake to attend breakfast at ten o’clock.
“Do you still desire to stay? You may leave at any time; just remember, my door will not be open to you again.” Mrs. Drummond gestured toward the door, the same indifferent expression on her weathered face.
“I … I will stay.”
Mrs. Drummond rose, but barely stood as high as Lydia’s shoulder. It was probably a good thing, for had she been any taller, she would have been unbearable.
“Follow me then. I will show you to your room.”
Their shoes clattered on the hard wooden steps, clean, but scuffed by scores of footsteps. The banister was worn smooth by many hands. Were they all as shaky and miserable as hers?
The house was larger than any she had ever lived in—but nothing to Rosings Park. A few student paintings decorated the walls and some inexpertly embroidered cushions and screens caught her eye as they hurried past. The furnishings she could make out were what Mama called serviceable.
They may as well have sent her to a workhouse.
“We have twelve pupils, including yourself, at present. All the students reside in the east wing of the house. The teachers and I are quartered in the west wing. You are not to go there, unless in company of the staff. Neither are you to enter another student’s room, except that you are invited by both the room’s residents.”
She had never been forbidden in so many places all at once. Was she to be welcome anywhere?
Mrs. Drummond paused and pointed. “There you see the school room and the music room, both of which you will have free use of. Downstairs, the morning room and back parlor are for students. The drawing room is not, unless you are receiving a visit from someone outside the school, which I think highly unlikely. My study is likewise prohibited unless I have called you there.”
Why would she ever want to go there otherwise?
Mrs. Drummond continued on her way. “The dining room is for meals only; do not linger there. No trays will be sent to your room unless there is verifiable illness. Meals are served promptly. If you are late without acceptable reason, you will not be admitted.”
Mrs. Drummond seemed the type to starve young ladies.
“This is your room.” She pointed to an open door on the left side of the hall.
Lydia peeked in. The chamber was bright and tidy, but colorless. A few pencil drawings and magazine fashion plates were pinned up on stark white walls. What a wonder Mrs. Drummond allowed such a luxury!
Two plain beds filled most of the room, neatly clothed with sturdy coverings. The edges of a thick wool blanket peeked out from the coverlet—perhaps she might not freeze.
A dressing table with a tarnished mirror, a utilitarian chair and writing table near the window, and a chest of drawers near the closet completed the furnishings.
“The room is not to your liking?” Mrs. Drummond glared every bit as imperiously as Lady Catherine might have.
“No … not … it is …”
“Better than you deserve. I hope you will come to understand that soon.” She strode to the pile of trunks near the window. “Now, show me what you have brought. We shall determine what is appropriate for your station as a student here and if there is anything else you might need.”
Now her trunks were to be searched? Would the humiliation never end?
“Do not dawdle girl! You are not my only concern today.” She clapped sharply. “Move along now.”
Lydia jumped and scurried to her trunks. The first held her body linen, stockings, night dresses and dressing gown. Mrs. Drummond inspected every one of the pieces Jane and Aunt Gardiner had carefully packed.
“You are fortunate to have been provided with so much. Fold them and put them in the bottom drawers of the dresser.” She handed over a chemise with a pretty lace trim along the edge.
Lydia laid it on the bed and folded it into quarters.
“Not like that.”
“I see we must begin at the beginning. Your mother truly did you a disservice. I hope you are quick to learn. Watch.” Mrs. Drummond smoothed the linen garment and drew it up into neat, regular folds that no doubt would fit perfectly into the drawer. “Understand?”
Mrs. Drummond shook it out. “Now you.”
Lydia’s hands quaked as she tried to force the stubborn linen into the required shapes. Folding linen has always been a servant’s job.
“Better,” Mrs. Drummond flicked the chemise in the air, shaking out all her efforts.
No! That was unkind!
Three more attempts and the chemise was accepted.
“Now this.” A petticoat took the place of the chemise.
Lydia attempted to groan, but a raised eyebrow from Mrs. Drummond stopped her cold. The harridan would probably not hesitate to beat her for a badly folded petticoat.
It took five attempts to please her captor.
“Finish the rest of your things. I will examine your gowns. Have you brought any other wraps?”
“The … the larger trunk has the gowns and the other has wraps and warm things.”
Mrs. Drummond would probably confiscate her nicest frocks away and leave her with only a single dress. Her eyes blurred, but she blinked fiercely. She would not give Mrs. Drummond the satisfaction of seeing her cry.
A pile of body linen appeared on the bed. Lydia turned her back to the trunks. Watching would only make it worse.
“Day dress, day dress, morning, walking. Whomever packed for you saw you were well equipped. This—” She walked to Lydia holding a white muslin dinner dress.
She would be holding that; Lydia’s favorite garment and the only truly pretty thing stuffy Aunt Gardiner had allowed her to bring.
“—is unnecessary. We do not dress for dinner here.”
She held her breath and fought the urge to snatch the dress away.
“But I shall allow you to keep it, for there is the rare occasion it may be appropriate.”
“Thank you.” She took the dress with trembling hands. Mrs. Drummond would probably not approve if she clutched it to her chest.
Mrs. Drummond carefully laid out her dresses on the end of the bed. “Put these in the closet when you have finished the linens. Now for the rest.” She opened the final trunk and laid out the shawls, bonnets, gloves, spencers and shoes.
A flash of red! What was that?
Her red cloak—the one her Wickham had bought her.
A sob welled in her throat. She stuffed her fist in her mouth, but it was not enough to contain the despair of the day. She sank onto the thin carpet, fighting to silence the cries wracking her chest.
A warm hand soothed her back. “There, there now girl. It has been a trying time for you no doubt. Let yourself have a good solid cry, and you will feel much better for it.”
She could not have done otherwise had she been of a mind to. Gut-wrenching sobs tore through her. All the while, Mrs. Drummond crouched beside her, hand on her shoulder, muttering soothing sounds.
At last, she hiccupped and lifted her head. Mrs. Drummond pressed a handkerchief into her hand. “Dry your eyes now, and we will finish settling you in.”
Lydia folded linen while Mrs. Drummond arranged her things in the closet.
“Finish the rest on your own. The girls will be returning soon, and I shall inform Juliana of your arrival.”
Lydia sniffled. “Yes, madam.”
She pulled something white and fluffy out of her pocket. “One final thing. Put this on. All our new girls are required to wear one.”
“You will have no maid to do your hair. Best you are not distracted by it as you learn your place in our society.”
“Miss Fitzgilbert did not wear one.”
“She did when she first came. She earned the privilege to remove it. In time, you might as well. I very much hope that will be the case. Until such time, you will be addressed by your Christian name, and you will address other girls of your station thus. When you earn release from your cap, you may be Miss Bennet once again.” Mrs. Drummond nodded and left, closing the door behind her.
Horrid woman! Lydia threw the cap at the door. It floated daintily to the floor, well short of its intended target.
Dreadful, awful, terrible place!
She kicked the cap. How could Mrs. Drummond demand she wear such a thing—to dress as a servant, or worse, as though she were on the shelf? She was only seventeen—she was not a spinster, and she would not be one either. But how could she find a husband when she was confined to this … this asylum?
Two years, Mr. Darcy said, two years—that was nearly forever. But he said he wanted to see improvement. If she ‘improved’, perhaps he might commute her sentence. If Mrs. Drummond wrote him of her virtues, he might permit her release.
It would require a great deal of effort to make Mrs. Drummond believe her improved, but it was her only choice. But what did improvement mean?
She snatched the cap off the floor and paced like a caged creature.
A horse wore its traces; a dog wore its collar. She would wear the dreadful thing; slave like a servant over chores; study her lessons and make charitable visits with a smile. That should be enough. Enough to convince Mrs. Drummond anyway. The stupid old cat.
She might not be as clever as Lizzy, but she was determined. That should count for even more; enough that she might even be free in just six months.
She folded the remainder of her linen with great care.
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