JANE AUSTEN'S FIGHTING MEN by Jack Caldwell


Rosings Park
a sequel to The Three Colonels

In this sequel to THE THREE COLONELS, Britain tries to find normalcy after a generation of war.

Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy journey to Rosings Park as guests of Sir Richard and Anne Fitzwilliam, but things are not what they seem. Their friends find running an estate is no easy matter, especially with Lady Catherine de Bourgh ready and eager to "advise." And the other guests, Sir John and Caroline Buford, have their own troubles. On top of that, a great natural disaster may prove to be the end of Rosings Park.

The Darcys, Bufords, and Fitzwilliams learn that "happily-ever-after" does not just happen -- it must be earned.

(Excerpt from Prologue:)

1798 - Hunsford, Kent

That the magistrate's men came after dark was no surprise, given the methods the Johnson family employed to put bread on the table. What was surprising was that the men chose to break down the door.

One moment, the Johnsons were consuming their meager soup in the dark main room of their rented cottage, and the next, Mr. Johnson, beaten and bloody, was pinned to the wall by three brutes, and Mrs. Johnson's arms were firmly held in the grasp of a fourth. The screams and curses had awakened their son, and the boy added his cries to the din. Two other men were in the small room, and while the constable was ordering that the house be searched, the other man, the steward of Rosings Park, loudly demanded that the sobbing brat be quiet. Mrs. Johnson screamed as the steward raised his hand to strike the child.

"Here," drawled an aristocratic voice, "none of that, Perkins."

The already crowded space was filled by the newcomer. It was not by his physical presence; indeed, the man was of middling height and very slim. He wore a coat of gold over ivory breeches, a powdered wig under his black tricorne hat, and held a tall ebony walking stick adorned with a brass knob in his left hand. No, it was the authority the man exuded that lit the dank scene like a lantern in a coal mine.

"Is this the man, Perkins?" asked the gentleman-for dressed like that, the newcomer could only be a gentleman.

"It is, Sir Lewis," the steward assured him, "this is the thief."

"And have you found what he stole?"

"Aye, Master," cried the constable, holding aloft the pilfered treasure.

"Hmm," the Master of Rosings Park and Magistrate for Hunsford mumbled as he inspected his property. He then walked over to the prisoner, stopping only a foot away. He studied the injured man as one might a troublesome insect. Finally, he spoke.

"You stole from me, Johnson."

The man Johnson had to spit out a bloody tooth before answering. "I don't know nothin' about that, your lordship-" His protests were interrupted by a slap on the face.

"Stop your damned lies!" the constable demanded. "We have the seeds right here!"

"I tell ya, I don't know nothin' about any seeds," Johnson insisted.

Perkins then spoke. "Things have been disappearing for years, Johnson, and I've had my eye on you. Now we've got the proof. It's the noose for you."

That got through Johnson's bravado. "Hangin' just fur seeds?!"

"Those are not just seeds," the gentleman said in a bored voice. "Those are the future of Rosings Park. How can we have spring planting without seeds? How can we have wheat without seeds? You might as well have taken my money right out of my pocket.

"But hanging may be too severe. Confess, and I will be merciful. Where is the rest of it?"

Johnson just stared at the gentleman. A violent shake for one of his captors seemed to loosen his tongue. "Buried it in th' woods," he admitted in a mumble.

"I will wager there's more besides, sir," said the steward.

The gentleman nodded in a satisfactory manner. "You will lead my men to the cache. Should all be recovered, I will recommend transportation to the court." To the constable he said, "Take him away."

"Transportation? Ya just might as well kill me!" Johnson cried as the brutes dragged him out the door. The gentleman seemed to pay him no mind, occupied as he was by glancing about the small, run-down cottage.

"Sir Lewis?" asked the steward. "What about them?"

Sir Lewis turned to Mrs. Johnson. "You, too, benefited from your . . . husband?" At her nod, he continued. "You benefited from your husband's crimes. You are as guilty as he."

Mrs. Johnson said nothing. Not only did she know any protest would fall on deaf ears, the bloody rich bastard was right. She knew full well what sort of man Johnson was when she married him. He was just like her father. Big promises of an easy life that never came true. Crooked and careless. She was the daughter of a thief and the wife of a thief. It was the only life she knew.

"Should we take her in hand, too?" asked Perkins.

Sir Lewis shifted his gaze to the young boy, his cries reduced to sniffling. He looked at the child with an unreadable expression.

"Your child?"

Mrs. Johnson nodded.

"He is about the same age as my daughter," Sir Lewis mused. "A boy. You are fortunate."

Mrs. Johnson shrugged. It was neither good nor bad. He was her son.

The gentleman sighed. "Perhaps my next child will be a son." He turned his attention to Mrs. Johnson. "Do you have some honest way to earn your bread?"

Mrs. Johnson spoke for the first time. "I'm a fair seamstress, m'lord."

"Hmm." The gentleman stroked his chin. "You cannot remain here. This is a cottage for a working family." He turned to the steward. "Have we any cottages available on the plantation? Ones that are out of the way?"

Perkins thought about that. "There's that old blacksmith's shack on the other side of the woods, but it's in bad shape."

"Yes, that will do." The gentleman turned again to Mrs. Johnson. "Normally, you would share your husband's fate, but I am a Christian man, and I will offer you a choice. You can accompany Johnson to exile, or you can move to new quarters on Rosings. You will receive no other charity from me, save what the Church decides to do, and you must earn your way in the world with your needle and thread."

Mrs. Johnson eyed him suspiciously. "An' what else?"

Sir Lewis sneered. "Do not flatter yourself, woman, that I would ever soil my hands on you. You will pay rent, based on what you earn. You must rebuild your reputation by honest effort, or you may go to Australia. I have stated my offer. What is your choice?"

There was no choice, as there was no love between Mrs. Johnson and her husband. He was simply there to provide what little he did to the table, and in turn, she shared his bed. She would not risk her life for him. Many died on the voyage to exile. She would be lonely in Hunsford, but so be it. "I'll stay."

"Very well. Perkins, see that her belonging are packed and moved to the shack as soon as may be. Make any repairs to the roof as needed." He turned again to Mrs. Johnson. "You owe my benevolence to your son. Treat him well." The baronet walked over and ruffled the frightened child's hair. "Let it not be said that Sir Lewis de Bourgh is not a generous man."

The gentleman left, obviously pleased with himself, and never saw the look of hate on the face of Mrs. Johnson.

~~~

April 15, 1815

For centuries, the mountain on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa had been quiet. Highly productive agriculturally, honey, horses, and sandalwood had been raised on its fertile slopes. The people who lived there had no idea that the mountain's bounty came from ancient volcanic ash and that there would eventually be a price to pay.

The fourteen thousand-foot mountain was a volcano named Tambora, and it would change the world.

The eruptions began ten days before and grew in intensity. Those that could flee did so, but there really was no place to hide. The final explosion, rated almost two centuries later at eight hundred megatons, ejected thirty-eight cubic miles of pyroclastic igneous rock into the atmosphere as nine thousand feet of mountain disappeared. The eruption was heard up to sixteen hundred miles away and killed twelve thousand people outright.

All the ash and debris pumped into the sky by the volcano in the southern Pacific Ocean would take some time to fall back to earth-years, in fact. It would block sunlight, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere. There would be years without summer, abnormally cold growing seasons, and that meant there would be small-to-no harvests in Europe and America.

The dying had just begun.

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