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Christina Boyd has done it again, assembling a fabulous team of authors for another Austen-inspired short story anthology. Rational Creatures pays homage to the ladies in Jane Austen’s works. I’m about a quarter of the way through the collection, and I’m loving it so far.

Today, J. Marie Croft is here to discuss Emma‘s Hetty Bates and share an excerpt from her story, “The Simple Things.” I hope you enjoy it, and please stay tuned for a HUGE giveaway. Please give her a warm welcome!

An impatient reader might skim over quotes spoken by Miss Hetty Bates, the talkative spinster-aunt in Emma. Her chatter is, after all, entirely inconsequential. Or is it? Read between those lines of hers, and you’ll discover a highly observant character. Hetty—when not prattling on—is watching and listening. 

Unpretentious, Hetty loves life’s simple pleasures. But she isn’t simple…nor is her situation in The Simple Things. In a precarious financial situation, she is sensible, prudent, and in control of her own destiny…with a little help from her friends. Although having no superior intellect or schooling, Hetty shows care and a vision for the future. She’s passionate about education for young women in general and her niece in particular. If it can be helped, Hetty won’t have a loved one remain, like her, in poverty and ignorance. If educated, Jane Fairfax could become, at least, a governess and live a more socially acceptable life than that of her spinster aunt. 

Hetty enjoys relative independence, though; and she has the power of choice. She can stand up for herself. She can refuse to become anyone’s doormat, and she can remain single. Why, she asks, would any rational person, male or female, bind themselves to another without mutual respect or affection? 

One of the few privileges women had in the Georgian era was the right to decline a marriage proposal. Back then, even a famous female author exercised that right; and she survived being single. (Alas, we wish she had survived longer!) 

Similar to Jane Austen’s rational choice, Hetty’s decisions came from strength. Both women made hard choices. They made sacrifices. Woman like that were, and are, strong. Women protect the people and the things we love. As do the opposite sex. After all, women and men are equal.

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At the home of Mr. and Mrs. Cole, Weaver-Smythe strode across the room in time to assist Hetty into her chair at the card table. Flipping coat-tails, he took the seat opposite hers. “I enjoyed your father’s sermon yesterday about overcoming evil with good. But was there really a thief at the vicarage last month? If so, did Mr. Bates really hit him over the head with your family Bible?” 

Hetty lowered her eyes. “No.” 

“Nevertheless, your father is quite the entertaining fellow, for a reverend.” 

“Oh, he can be entertaining, indeed. And, at times, irreverent. Quite irreverent! Father often complains to Old John Adby about our limited income, about being poor. He merely gets teased in return. ‘I know you are naught but a poor preacher, Bates. I hear you every Sunday!’” Hetty smiled as Weaver-Smythe guffawed. Growing sombre, she shook her head. “Mr. Adby has been my father’s clerk for as long as I can remember, but—bless him!—the dear man developed rheumatic gout in his joints. ’Tis sad—so sad!—to witness him, or anyone, in pain.” 

“You have a compassionate soul, Miss Bates.” Weaver-Smythe reached across the table, gently pressing her hand for the briefest of moments. 

Hetty blushed at his touch. “Thank you. Unfortunately, Father’s wit has put him in trouble with his bishop more than once.” At Weaver-Smythe’s expectant expression, Hetty told him to prepare for something dreadful. “I was mortified at the time.” 

“Better and better.” Rubbing palms together, he sat forward, smiling in anticipation. 

“Have you met farmer Mitchell yet? No? Well, he is a local man nearing his fifth decade. No, wait. Upon my honour, I do believe he recently turned one-and-fifty. Or two-and-fifty. No matter. Last April he took to the altar Miss Ward, the butcher’s daughter, who was but fifteen years of age at the time. ‘Mr. Mitchell,’ cried my father in a voice so loud the entire congregation heard, ‘you will find the font at the opposite end of the church.’ Poor Mr. Mitchell looked around in confusion. ‘Beggin’ yer pardon, Mr. Bates, but what do I want with the font?’ In his droll manner, Father said, ‘Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr. Mitchell. I thought you had brought the child to be christened.’” 

Hetty’s face had grown redder while relating the story, but she chuckled along with Weaver-Smythe. “It may be amusing now, sir. Yes, quite amusing. The entire congregation laughed, but I was mortified. Mortified! Mother hissed at me for slouching down in the pew. I wanted nothing more than the ground to open and swallow me whole. I have never, ever, been so mortified.” Palms to cheeks, she closed her eyes. “Now I am embarrassed all over again.” 

Weaver-Smythe reached across the table, intimately resting, far longer than before, his hand upon one of hers. 

That particular hand went unwashed until Hetty arose the next morning. 

After a fortnight in each other’s company amidst Highbury society, Hetty believed herself in love with Philip Weaver-Smythe. Whether he harboured any special regard for her was less certain. But to have the attention of a remarkably fine young man, with a great deal of intelligence, spirit, and brilliancy was something, indeed. 

Save George Knightley, who was always kind, no other eligible man had ever paid Hetty the slightest attention. Weaver-Smythe walked and talked with her. He understood her. He told her she was not at all dull and should not be ashamed of preferring basic comforts and that he, too, delighted in life’s simple pleasures. 

“Who needs more than modest belongings? Why, a second-hand carriage is as functional as a new one.” He smiled the special smile that made Hetty weak at the knees. “Did I ever mention, Miss Bates, that I am a vendor of such conveyances?” 

“Innumerable times, sir.” 

“Are you implying I talk too much?” 

“No. I talk too much.” 

“Utter nonsense! If anyone says you talk too much, you must simply talk them out of it. Now, as a special surprise, I have sent for my bespoke curricle. It should arrive within the week, newly refurbished to such an extent that it is even better than new. Wait until you see the improvements I ordered. If you agree, I shall drive you any place you wish to go. Even to Box Hill, if we can get a party together.” 

Others noticed their peculiar friendship. But Hetty was, after all, nearly a spinster at four-and-twenty. She had no dowry. There could be nothing more than amity between them, no sincere affection, no expectation on either side. Friends and neighbours thought so kindly of Hetty, they simply smiled and turned blind eyes and deaf ears, allowing her a summer of mild flirtation. 

“My dear girl,” said Mr. Bates, holding her hand, “do not set your cap at him. While he obviously fancies you as a friend, he does not seem the sort to know how justly to appreciate your value. Do you truly suppose he has serious designs on you?” 

Of course not”— for I am an undistinguished, penniless, bespectacled spinster with grey strands in my hair. 

Hope, however, bloomed within Hetty’s heart when Weaver-Smythe invited her and Jane for a drive in his curricle. With the three Buckleys following in their own carriage, they arrived at Bramblehill Park, an abandoned estate in Berkshire. The six of them strolled around the overgrown grounds, inspecting the place, peeking through the manor’s grimy, broken windows, and admiring the views. With a great deal of work, the adults all agreed, the place could be an excellent location to settle and raise a family. 

Weaver-Smythe had winked, then, at Hetty.

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About the Author

J. Marie Croft

J. MARIE CROFT is a self-proclaimed word nerd and adherent of Jane Austen’s quote “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery.” Bearing witness to Joanne’s fondness for Pride and Prejudice, wordplay, and laughter are her light-hearted novel, Love at First Slight (a Babblings of a Bookworm Favourite Read of 2014), her playful novella, A Little Whimsical in His Civilities (Just Jane 1813’s Favourite 2016 JAFF Novella), and her humorous short stories in the anthologies Sun-kissed: Effusions of Summer, The Darcy Monologues, and Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues. Joanne lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.

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About Rational Creatures

“But I hate to hear you talking so, like a fine gentleman, and as if women were all fine ladies, instead of rational creatures. We none of us expect to be in smooth water all our days.” —Persuasion
 
Jane Austen: True romantic or rational creature? Her novels transport us back to the Regency, a time when well-mannered gentlemen and finely-bred ladies fell in love as they danced at balls and rode in carriages. Yet her heroines, such as Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Elliot, and Elinor Dashwood, were no swooning, fainthearted damsels in distress. Austen’s novels have become timeless classics because of their biting wit, honest social commentary, and because she wrote of strong women who were ahead of their day. True to their principles and beliefs, they fought through hypocrisy and broke social boundaries to find their happily-ever-after.

In the third romance anthology of The Quill Collective series, sixteen celebrated Austenesque authors write the untold histories of Austen’s brave adventuresses, her shy maidens, her talkative spinsters, and her naughty matrons. Peek around the curtain and discover what made Lady Susan so wicked, Mary Crawford so capricious, and Hettie Bates so in need of Emma Woodhouse’s pity.

Rational Creatures is a collection of humorous, poignant, and engaging short stories set in Georgian England that complement and pay homage to Austen’s great works and great ladies who were, perhaps, the first feminists in an era that was not quite ready for feminism.

“Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will become good wives; —that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.” —Mary Wollstonecraft

Stories by: Elizabeth Adams * Nicole Clarkston * Karen M Cox * J. Marie Croft * Amy D’Orazio * Jenetta James * Jessie Lewis * KaraLynne Mackrory * Lona Manning * Christina Morland * Beau North * Sophia Rose * Anngela Schroeder * Joana Starnes * Caitlin Williams * Edited by Christina Boyd * Foreword by Devoney Looser

Buy on Amazon

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Giveaway

Rational Creature SUPER Giveaway: The Random Name Picker winner review all blog comments and select one winner from these blog stop comments during the tour for all 21 prizes: Winner’s choice of one title from each authors’ backlist (that’s 16 books, ebooks, or audiobooks), our bespoke t-shirt/soap/candle; #20, a brick in winner’s name to benefit #BuyABrick for Chawton House; and #21, the Quill Collective anthologies in ebook or audiobook.

The giveaway ends November 15, 2018 and is open to international winners. To enter, please leave a comment below.

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Follow the Blog Tour

September 18 / My Jane Austen Book Club / Guest Post

September 22 / Just Jane 1813/ Guest Post

September 25 / Books & Wine are Lovely Playlist

September 27 / Fangs, Wands and Fairydust / Guest Post

October 2 / Babblings of a Bookworm / Guest Post

October 4 / From Pemberley to Milton / Guest Post

October 9 / Austenesque Reviews / Guest Post

October 11 / Silver Petticoat / Guest Post

October 15 / Just Jane 1813 / Book Review

October 16 / My Love for Jane Austen / Guest Post

October 18 / Rosie’s Review Team / Book Review

October 23 / More Agreeably Engaged / Guest Post

October 25 / The Book Rat / Guest Post

October 30 / Margie’s Must Reads / Book Review

November 1 / My Vices and Weaknesses / Guest Post

November 6 / Diary of an Eccentric / Book Review

November 8  / Of Pens and Pages / Book Review

November 13 / Let Us Talk of Many Things / Guest Post

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