Happy New Year 2019!
What a great way of starting the year I have: introducing The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament by Don Jacobson!
You may be asking yourself, why is it a great way of starting the year? Apart from the obvious part of this being a book from an author that I really enjoy… it is also one of my New Year’s resolutions to read The Bennet Wardrobe series. I have read two of them so far and I want to read them all (even the ones I have already read). Don Jacobson has created an amazing world where Pride and Prejudice‘s characters originally created by Jane Austen have a new level of adventures. Just for you to have an idea, you could read my review of The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque.
Today Don is sharing a lot of information about the wardrobe and how it works. Moreover, he is giving us a bonus, we have a big part of Chapter 23 waiting for us to enjoy (just keep reading after the giveaway).
Let me (re)introduce you to the author, Don Jacobson:
Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years. His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television and radio. His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards. He has previously published five books, all non-fiction. In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series—The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey, novel that grew from two earlier novellas. The Exile is the second volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series. Other JAFF P&P Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” and“The Maid and The Footman”.
Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations. As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization and Research Writing.
He is a member of JASNA-Puget Sound. Likewise, Don is a member of the Austen Authors collective (see the internet, Facebook and Twitter).
He lives in the Seattle, WA area with his wife and co-author, Pam, a woman Ms. Austen would have been hard-pressed to categorize, and their rather assertive four-and-twenty pound cat, Bear. Besides thoroughly immersing himself in the JAFF world, Don also enjoys cooking; dining out, fine wine and well-aged Scotch whiskey.
His other passion is cycling. Most days from April through October will find him “putting in the miles” around the Seattle area (yes, there are hills). He has ridden several “centuries” (100 mile days). Don is especially proud that he successfully completed the AIDS Ride—Midwest (500 miles from Minneapolis to Chicago) and the Make-A-Wish Miracle Ride (300 miles from Traverse City, MI to Brooklyn, MI).
You can follow and contact Don through different ways:
Goodreads Author’s Page (with blog)
Author Website (with blog)
Bennet looked at his wife’s swollen lips, softly bruised from several deeply loving kisses, and her flushed complexion, as alluring when gracing the countenance of a woman of four-and-forty as that of a girl of nine-and-ten. He was one of the lucky few to have fallen in love with the same woman at both ages.
Thomas Bennet, Master of Longbourn, had always counted himself amongst the few educated gentlemen of his acquaintance. But, he had to travel over 120 years into the future to discover how little he knew about the woman sharing his life.
Once again, the amazing Bennet Wardrobe proved to be the schoolmaster. Tom Bennet’s lesson? Mrs. Bennet had been formed especially for him. Yet, t’would be the good lady herself who taught him the power of the Fifth and Sixth Loves: Redemption and Forgiveness.
Fanny Bennet also would uncover deep wells of courage and inspiration as she stood by her man’s side in the bleak years after World War II. Together they would lead their descendants in pursuit of the beast who had wronged every member of the Five Families.
The Bennet Wardrobeseries stands alone…
The Avenger takes us on a new journey through The Bennet Wardrobe– an alternate universe rising from Don Jacobson’s vivid imagination and based upon the immortal Pride and Prejudice. The Avenger is another important step leading to the culmination of this enchanting trip: one that has drawn us into its reality to travel side-by-side with richly sketched characters. Each book has left us wanting more.
The Bennet Wardrobe series stands alone as a unique result of originality focused on beloved characters as they move—and grow—through surprising plotlines.
Lory Lilian, author of Rainy Days
Interview: Of things Wardrobe and Avenger
Thank you very much, Don for visiting us today. Readers, I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I have. I have learnt a lot about the Wardrobe and its functioning and I find very interesting the idea of solipcism.
Why the Wardrobe as a device to create a story arc in the Pride & Prejudice Universe?
Many #Austenesque writers have sought to carry on the ODC story by offering the younger sisters their own storylines. Epilogues usually place Mr. Bennet in the bowels of the Pemberley Library. Mrs. Bennet is rarely mentioned—and is often suddenly dispatched with a bout of apoplexy.
I felt that there needed to be a different possibility… that each of these characters could enjoy fulfilling lives once they had overcome the inner demons holding them back. Could they have done that by staying on the Regency timeline? Perhaps.
However, something tickled my brain—perhaps it was my adolescent fascination with science fiction mixing with my much more adult appreciation of the Canon—that placed the Wardrobe up in front of me. Now my protagonists could be immersed in different timeframes beyond the Regency to learn that which they needed to learn in order to realize their potentials.
I adhere to the idea—solipcism—posited by the great speculative fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein: that through the act of writing fiction, the reality in which that fiction exists is created. Thus, the writings of Jane Austen created a universe in which Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet…or Thomas and Fanny Bennet…are as real as you and I. In addition, I have used my author’s prerogative to make them aware of their context, often through the device of tasking historical characters to play a part in advancing the plot or providing needed exposition.
What is the Wardrobe and how does it work?
The Bennet Wardrobe was created by the master cabinetmaker Grinling Gibbons, one of those historical personages previously mentioned, in the early 1690s for the first Bennet to own Longbourn Estate in Meryton, Mr. Christopher Bennet. This Bennet had earned his fortune with the Honorable East India Company (HEIC).
Gibbons, a friend of Isaac Newton’s and a follow student of the universe, had divined a way to create a mystical transport device/system (similar to C.S. Lewis’ Wardrobe, J.K. Rowling’s Flue Network or Dr. Who’s TARDIS). He took those ideas and incorporated them into the Bennet Wardrobe. The Wardrobe was capable of transporting the user—who must be a Bennet bloodline descendent—to a time in the future where the Wardrobe itself is present. Then the user can return to the exact same moment in the present.
Can the Bennet user go to any time and place in the future they wish?
No. The Wardrobe is driven by an intelligence/understanding that employs what the users need to learn to grow into the best versions of themselves…not what they want…as the determinant for the where/whenfor the solution of the request.
What controls the Wardrobe?
Gibbons discerned a series of “Rules of the Wardrobe” that appeared to be inviolable.
Chief amongst these, after the bloodline requirement, were that travel could only be accomplished to the future. No travel to the past prior to that instant was possible.
The second critical rule was that all trips needed to be round trips. Thus, while a user could travel to the future, the user’s next use of the Wardrobe would result in a return to the where/whenfrom which the user departed.
How does the Wardrobe play a role in the Sixth volume of the series?
In The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament, the Wardrobe is used twice.
Before I move on with this response, I must note that The Wardrobe is a plot device. The Bennet Wardrobe stories and novels are a chronicle of the Bennet Family of Meryton… and how they are afforded the opportunity to redeem themselves, to grow beyond the plot devices established by Miss Austen. Thus, you will not see the Bennets flitting around time and space. T’would be distracting.
However, the first time the Wardrobe is employed…three years after the double wedding…Thomas Bennet is responding to his wife’s frequently voiced desire to see Kitty. The fourth daughter, at least according to Mr. Bennet, had been dispatched to a seminary in Cornwall to make reparations for her role in the Lydia affair in December 1811.
Bennet discovers… and he would not learn this epigram until later as his youngest had yet to utter the words… that The Wardrobe has a particularly nasty sense of humor. He had desired to bring his wife (suitably drugged with laudanum) to a where/when—the future (see both Volumes of The Exile)—for a brief conference with their darling girl. Sadly, the Wardrobe decided to send Thomas Bennet to a time and place…and a situation…where he could lift himself up from being the indolent father.
You have mentioned that Bennets are transported to times where they can ‘become the best versions of themselves.’ What does this mean?
This is my formulation of what I have determined to be The Fifth Love(moving beyond C.S. Lewis’ Four Loves). Exagoras Agapis is the love which redeems. I see the Fifth Love as an active force…unlike The Four Loves which describe states of being…driving persons to rectify their shortcomings so as to become worthy of the object of their affections.
For all my conversations about “secondary characters,” the first example of redemptive love is found in Pride and Prejudice itself. After Hunsford and Darcy’s letter, both Darcy and Elizabeth undergo tectonic changes in their personalities, outlooks, ad behaviors. All of these shifts are examples of Exagoras Agapis, two centuries before I articulated it.
However, t’is Mrs. Bennet… as she herself begins the final assault on the heights of her flighty personality construct in Book Two of The Avenger… who offers an introduction to the love which redeems.
Chapter XV (August 1947)
On the slopes of Oakham Mount
©2018 by Don Jacobson. All rights reserved. Reproduction—either mechanical or electronic—without the written consent of the copyright holder is prohibited.
[Here Mrs. Bennet, while in conversation with her husband, uses self-hypnosis to reach out to her Inner Guide, a being with whom she had not conversed since shortly after her marriage to Bennet in early 1789.]
Her eyes drifted shut as she slid down through the layers of noise that had impeded her mentalitée until she arrived at a space so familiarly quiet that an ineffable sense of peace flooded over her. T’was then that she felt the other…one particularly familiar in her ancient comfort yet having not been called upon for decades.
Is it you? I thought you had abandoned me.
>could not rise past lace, children, confusion, anger, fear
The form/not form/color/arc shot throughout the vault, as if rejoicing in its liberation. In its passage, a calming smoothed the matte surface that was the slate of her inner being.
Exagoras agapis? What is that? From where did it come?
>the love that redeems
>given you by the Bennet, grasped by your soul
>the desire to be the better version of self
But why now?
>Founder needs you, your strength. but I cannot…
>too new…draw closer for help
At this, a great china-blue strand whipped across the field. With dread, Fanny observed a night black blade drop and cleave it in twain. One portion shriveled and vanished, the other floated, unanchored.
As the viable strand passed into her possession, she was surrounded by dunes covered with carpets of roses…of all colors. The sound of the sea swished in her core, and she sensed another approaching, sweeping down from behind the crest of the sandy mounds. Then all sound was cast in the richest of green hues.
Do I know you?
>i am of yours…not the Countess, but her guide…here for moment.
Are you suggesting that you are “neither Kitty nor Kate” but are like mine, but hers?
Where is my girl?
>…not here…gone out, above plane…ask
What happened to her?
><indistinct> winter rose
The flower? There are no roses that bloom in winter.
>truth…browned canes…waiting pruning…even now…black flower.
>rosa chinensis will triumph…ask
Rosa Chinensis like what I introduced from Mama’s garden into Longbourn’s?
>…Gardiner is mother bush from which all Bennet roses bloom…
>…Founder cannot succeed without the rosa merytonensis…
>…help him, mama…ma…ma………..ma….
A great wind arose and swept the emerald filament off into infinity…and silence resumed.
A tear slid down from beneath a closed lid as Mrs. Bennet realized that, for all the abuse and disquiet she had absorbed over four-and-ten years in the wilderness, she was the missing link.
[i]Redemptive love. See D. Jacobson blog post The Fifth Love: That Which Redeems, Austen Authors.net, March 17, 2018. https://austenauthors.net/the-fifth-love-that-which-redeems/
From Chapter XVI
Squaring her shoulders, she spoke in a low, but firm voice, “You saw me just now. You may have thought I was not attending to that which you were saying. I assure you that I was…on one level.
“However, most of my senses were elsewhere. T’is akin to a trance, I imagine. I fall into it when I clear away all distractions and carefully focus my eyes on something like the leaves above us or the upper corner of a room where two walls and the ceiling meet. That permits me to separate myself from my cares and concerns, something I wish I had done these four-and-ten years past.
“As my concentration deepens, my eyes eventually drift shut, the outside world vanishes, and, with my mind clear, I find myself able to commune with…with…oh, I do not know with what or whom. T’is a force, a power, a being. I have always called her my Guide.
“We have conversations. I ask her questions, and she helps me find true solutions to my problems where, in my consciousness, I would seek to derive emotional comfort from false or partial solutions. These invariably lead to nowhere.
“Consider the ultimate false solution.
“I forced you to bow to my demand that each of our beloved girls come outwhen she reached five-and-ten. I wanted each to steal a march on other young ladies in her cohort; to attract the attention of a marriageable man and secure her…my…future.
“While the first four avoided disaster, we now know what my need to protect the girls from the entail led to with the fifth. Lydia will enjoy none of the perquisites relished by our other girls who waited until after their twentieth year to wed.”
Fanny had once again clambered off the fallen tree trunk, so comfortable for her long-legged husband, but a bit elevated for a woman who barely troubled five feet when measured in her satin dance slippers. She stood facing Bennet and made her case with hard-edged hand gestures and broad arm sweeps as if the bowl of Oakham’s slope rising above was home to benches filled with eager students. From time to time her sky-blue eyes would settle on Tom’s hazel orbs and her voice dropped as she sought to drive home her points.
“False solutions, Tom, are the path to ruin,” she continued. “I know.
“T’is not that I had forgotten about my Guide or what I could accomplish with her aid, but rather I was so disturbed after…after…well…the babe…that I could not have settled myself long enough to seek her out.
“I became more and more like my sister; concerned about fripperies and gossip and not on our family. Would that I could have modeled my comportment after Edward.”
How did you enjoy the interview and the excerpts? I believe Don has treated us with so much information and so much insight in the Bennet Wardrobe that some of you may want to go right now and buy this book (or the whole series):
Blog Tour Schedule
Visit the previous posts to enjoy much more about The Avenger:
28th Dec. 2018 Babblings of a Bookworm; Guest Post, Excerpt, Giveaway
29th Dec. Interests of a Jane Austen Girl; Review, Giveaway
30th Dec. My Love for Jane Austen; Guest Post, Giveaway
4th Jan. So Little Time…; Guest Post, Giveaway
5th Jan. My life journey; Review, Excerpt Giveaway
8th Jan. Diary of an Eccentric; Guest Post, Giveaway
9th Jan. From Pemberley to Milton; Excerpt, Giveaway
Time To Give Away
Don is giving away 4 eBooks of The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament
Click on the link below to participate on this giveaway. This book, like its series, is worth it!
The “New” Carlton Club, St. James Street, London, September 1, 1947
Liebermann’s assertion about Bennet Eyes sent Detachment Anubis scrambling as this was the first real clue they had uncovered besides the murderer’s rank and service branch. A trusted forensic artist had been sent over for an impromptu Deauville vacation—something about which her husband and children were justifiably thrilled. Liebermann sat with her, much to Madame Liebermann’s displeasure, for two whole days until an accurate sketch of the subject was generated.
Now Anubis had the first item that could be tacked upon the wall in a meeting room, given over to their exclusive use, deep beneath Lincoln’s Inn. Over the following years, hundreds of documents, photographs, and other scraps, culled from a thousand different sources, would find their way onto the beige panels in that subterranean keep. More would be posted and then removed. But the pencil sketch with hazel green eyes remained, the paper gradually yellowing with age.
Still, a portrait of this nature did nothing to bring to light the identity of the culprit. Only Liebermann could pick him out of a crowd, but chances were microscopic that the two would ever be in the same place at the same time. Thus, Bennet had resolved to place the Sergeant where he would do the most good.
To that end, Bennet had prevailed upon the Earl to break through the bureaucratic logjam that was modern government to enable Anubis to insert Liebermann into the bowels of the captured SS Archives consolidated in the suburbs of Nuremberg. There, the sergeant would soon be able to flip through hundreds of thousands of documents collected from the remains of Himmler’s headquarters in Berlin and satellite complexes across Hitler’s Festung Europa that had been captured either whole or in part. Much was duplicated and nearly all was on paper. The process of microfilming the trove had barely begun and was anticipated to take years.
However, there was a chance that Liebermann would find his man’s photo attached to a personnel record. However, Bennet assumed that the Sergeant’s patience would fail long before achieving positive results. Yet, try they must for all earlier efforts had generated nothing.
The Earl resolved to pull two specific levers to execute Bennet’s wishes.
The first was to employ Lizzy Schiller’s wartime service with General Clay. He gambled that the High Commissioner of the Military Government (US) would respond to an appeal directly delivered by his former driver to allow a demobilized German subaltern into the closely held archives, usually available only to the Nuremburg Tribunal attorneys. Using Lizzy as his emissary likely would guarantee the High Commissioner would consent to a meeting, however brief. Clay knew Lizzy’s background and connections from his earlier history with the young lady. And, knowing what he did of Matlock’s other role, Clay would instantly accept a verbal message from Mrs. Schiller.
Lizzy’s maid pulled the young matron’s WREN uniform from storage and brushed it, all the while wondering if birthing a young heir for the Schiller line would have rendered the question of the outfit ever fitting again asked and answered. However, Mrs. Schiller’s daily rambles across the hillsides flowing down from the Peak toward her mother’s seat at the rose-colored sandstone mansion in Derbyshire proved to be the deciding factor. With one or two minor adjustments to the rich blue skirt to accommodate Lizzy’s now-womanly hips, the outfit settled onto her frame as if it had not been put aside since May 1945.
Lizzy and Alois boarded an American DC-3 at RAF Biggin Hill, and the aircraft soared toward occupied Germany. Operation Anubis came to life as soon as the transport’s wheels left the ground.
The Earl, however, refused to place all his eggs in the figurative single basket. That was the purpose of this session in the bastion of British Conservative Party politics. This was his second pressure point.
The Earl had been warmly greeted by the Carlton’s gatekeepers. However, they balked at admitting the stranger who accompanied him. While Matlock was long seen as apolitical by the Club’s staff, his more unusual activities had left him with an after-image, an aura that was more soiled than pristine; nothing confirmed, of course. The sense of his being involved in a world that would normally be eschewed by the more proper gentlemen who inhabited the paneled rooms overlooking St. James Street imbued attendants with a sense of caution that precluded admitting any unknown persons accompanying the Earl. The staff, therefore, sought to refuse admittance to Bennet.
M, in his guise as Matlock, had an ace up his sleeve. However, as Thomas Fitzwilliam was an eminently honorable man, he would have found that metaphor to be distasteful. In truth, the capital card had been face-down—and un-played—on the table for more than a century…literally from the first day of the Club in 1832.
“Now, Henderson, I do appreciate that you have taken it upon yourself to uphold the Club’s standards. However, I assure you that Mr. Bennet has the same right to be here as I do,” Matlock vowed.
The employee was unfazed.
“I am sorry, my Lord. I do not recognize the gentleman, and, while you vouch for his bona fides, I am not comfortable in seeing him enter here as he may be tainted with unsavory associations. You understand, sir, that I must protect the reputation of the Club,” the man respectfully replied.
Throughout this, Bennet watched, bemused, his grandson, a peer of the realm, doing battle with a banty rooster decked out in the finest livery and determined to protect his coop.
Shaking his head, the Earl let drop a hammer, one that carried little meaning to the attendant beyond shifting the discussion to a level far above his pay grade, “Please send for Managing Director Matthews. Advise that he needs must bring the Club’s membership roster found in his safe. There is but one.”
Henderson picked up a telephone receiver from behind his podium and briefly spoke into it conveying the Earl’s instructions.
Within five minutes, a compact man bustled down the grand staircase. In his arms he cradled a large volume.
Striding across the lobby, he motioned the Earl and Bennet over to a large table flanking the wall adjacent to the entrance. Taking a moment to arrange the leather-bound book on the slab, he turned to the two men. Brief introductions were made. The Earl then took over the conversation.
“Matthews: do you accept me at my word that the gentleman accompanying me is a certain Mr. Thomas Michael Bennet of Meryton, Hertfordshire?”
The official assured him that he would never presume to question the veracity of any statement made by the Earl of Matlock.
Fitzwilliam continued, “Excellent. Then I repeat my assertion made to Henderson. Mr. Bennet has every right to enter the halls of the Carlton Club either by my side or without me—in fact his right to be here long predates mine.”
A look of outrage at the idea that someone who had not been vetted by the Membership Committee entering the sacred precincts reshaped Matthews features. He chose a milder tack, though, when he demurred by saying, “I have never heard of Mr. Bennet, and I have been associated with the Club since your father’s day.”
The Earl glared and uttered an imprecation under his breath before firmly sticking a pin in the supercilious attitude with which he had been met, “Then look in your roster, man…”
Had the Earl finally slipped a cog, Matthews wondered? As the Carlton’s Managing Director, part of his remit was to know every active member and have at least a passing awareness of those who had stepped away from Westminster’s fray and had permanently retreated to their country homes. To his mind, this gentleman from Hertfordshire—more likely a forger from Prague given the number of words the man had not uttered—resembled nobody Matthews knew. He did bear an uncanny resemblance to Matlock. Perhaps, Matthews mused, the Earl had taken to travelling with a body double: someone destined to take a bullet otherwise intended for him? In any event, this person was not Carlton caliber, of that Matthews was sure.
Matthews opened the great roster with exaggerated movements indicating that he truly believed that he had been dragged from his office on a fool’s errand. He turned toward the back of the book which drew an exasperated sigh from Matlock.
“No, Matthews…the front of the book. Look at the first two pages.”
Matthews shrugged, perhaps suggesting that aristocrats, particularly those of the older families, had been known to become increasingly eccentric in their middle years. He knew that those first two pages contained the names of the Carlton’s founding members who had met at the Thatched Coffee House in the aftermath of the Great Reform Act of 1832. While there were some legacy members who had descended from the Originals, their names were entered later in the book. But, he turned to the front of the ledger and dutifully ran his well-manicured forefinger down the columns of member names and their sponsors.
And, there on the second page, about halfway down he discovered something quite shocking.
Thos. M. Bennet of Longbourn, Meryton, Hertshire
by Lord Matlock, Genl. Sir Richard Fitzwilliam KCB
“And, Matthews, if you check your records, this member, number 93, has regularly paid his dues for 115 years,” the Earl growled, “but, I do not expect you to question the plausibility of such as this. Rather, I insist that you cease any further interference and that you admit Mr. Bennet immediately. He has a meeting with the Member for Woodford.[i]
“You will now forget his antecedents. Know that if he wishes to dine here or entertain, his charges will be handled in the usual manner, unless, of course, you would prefer that he frequent his other club—the Reform.”
“Officious bureaucrat,” groused Matlock as he and Bennet left the puzzled manager and amused doorman behind as they climbed the great staircase to the member’s lounge that stretched across the St. James’ front of the structure.
Bennet chuckled and laid a comforting hand on his grandson’s shoulder, “Now, Tom, you will give yourself an apoplexy if you let every little thing set your teeth on edge. I was finding the sparring match between you and Mr. Matthews to be quite amusing.
“He reminded me of my cousin Coll…”
The Earl cut him off snapping, “Nobody mentions that man’s name in the hearing of any of the Five Families.”
Astonished at the reproof, Bennet backtracked, “That I did not know. You will have to explain the reasoning behind this injunction sometime.
“What I had planned to say was that Matthews had many of the more irritating qualities that my…cousin…exhibited minus the oleaginous bowing and scraping for which he was legend.
“Now, before we walk in, please tell me something about the man we are to meet.”
A thumbnail of one of the century’s dominant political figures followed and occupied the remainder of their passage across the vast wood-paneled room, their footsteps muffled by the deep pile of exquisite carpeting. The room itself was nearly deserted as members were still making their way back to the capital with the completion of their vacation journeys and the end of the house party season. Individual members consoled themselves in their loneliness with copies of the day’s broadsheets and early afternoon bracers of whiskey or brandy.
However, one small grouping in the pre-eminent position of the room’s geography—adjacent to the great fireplace, cold now—drew Matlock and Bennet to it. There they saw a roly-poly figure of a man, his bald pate shining in the sunlight streaming through the great windows that occupied one long wall. Occupied with a tall whiskey and soda and an equally imposing cigar upon which he puffed from time-to-time, the gentleman was surrounded by two acolytes who relaxed in the great man’s presence, comfortably laughing as he offered some trenchant commentary. The younger men, solely from their manner, impressed Bennet not as lackeys but rather as lessers in the orbit of one who was the first amongst equals.
Winston Churchill, out of office for two years, was now in his 73rd year and continued as leader of the Conservative Party. His health had recovered from the vicissitudes of his wartime service, and he once again relished the rough and tumble of parliamentary politics. Churchill regularly heaped unique levels of scorn upon the Labour government headed by Clement Atlee, continuing his thirty-year battle against the dangers of Socialism first launched in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Already he had begun to feel the pain of having outlived many of his contemporaries who had already succumbed to upper class lifestyles dominated by cigars, drink, and rich food. Thus, he had necessarily surrounded himself with men twenty to thirty years his junior: good men, but of a different generation without personal memories of late 19th Century global forces that had shaped Churchill’s life and worldview. Two of those, R.A. Butler and Brendan Bracken, sat by him now.[ii]
The former premier espied Matlock and his guest crossing the floor in his direction. He waited until the pair had pulled to a halt in front of his station before he curtly dismissed the other two gentlemen saying, “Rab, Brendan…leave us.”
To their credit, neither man, so familiar each was with Churchill’s behavior, bridled at their man’s brusque manner. They simply rose and, unintroduced, nodded to the Earl and Bennet before departing.
The Leader of the Opposition gazed upwards from his leather wingback. He had known Matlock for decades, both as a young man before his elevation upon his father’s death as well as his wartime M, having swept the previous master of British intelligence out the door with the rest of the appeasers. Churchill’s interest was arrested, though, by the remarkable resemblance between the two men in front of him. Oh, there were differences. Matlock seemed a softer, newer version—Fitzwilliamed, it seemed, on top of another stock—of the other fellow; the latter had apparently sprung from an earlier graft upon their common family tree. However, dismissing superficial differences, the two men were clearly related. The most distinctive variance was to be found in their eyes, similar in their unique cast, something which was held in common by every member of the Five Families, but different in color. The Earl’s were his father’s steel grey. The other gentleman’s eyes were hazel.
Churchill, turning his penetrating gaze directly upon Bennet, drank in a vision of the male version of someone he had last encountered in early 1940. As was frequently his wont when he turned something over in his capacious mind, muttered in sotto voce, “So, you would have me meet a Mr. Bennet of Hertfordshire. Is he the same Bennet written about by Miss Austen, I wonder? I recall talking with Holmes about his belief that Pride and Prejudice was a work of non-fiction published as a romantic novel.
“This fellow does look like a former Miss Bennet who, with her husband the Earl, dined with Clemmie and I at Selkirk when we abandoned Sunny and Consuelo at Blenheim and dashed off to the Peaks in ’07.”[iii]
Then he subsided into himself, content for the moment to await the opening gambit of the Earl of Matlock whom he knew to be as crafty and cagey as any man on the planet. He motioned the two to take up the seats recently emptied by Butler and Bracken. However, M surprised his old employer with something thoroughly unexpected, a remarkable amount of candor.
“Winston…I sent you some information on Mr. Bennet when I requested this meeting. I can tell you little beyond that which you already know about him. I will offer that he has travelled an unimaginable distance to be here today. I trust that you will allow me to leave you in the dark concerning Bennet’s background, although I am certain that you may have already arrived at some conclusions that you may wish to discuss with Lindemann.[iv]
“Beyond some intentional smudging around the edges, I want to apprise you of the true reason we are here today.
“Bennet and I need your help in convincing Atlee to allow one of our people free rein in the SS archives collected at Nuremburg.
“I have asked Bennet’s help in tracking down the SS colonel who orchestrated the death of my mother, my son, his wife, and their two children along with over a dozen other innocents since the end of the war. Mr. Bennet has a peculiar and equally strong interest, akin to my own, in bringing this monster to justice; his obsession is one which would do our friends in Palestine credit.
“We have created a special detachment in MI6—limited to only a few trusted persons, taking a page from Holmes’ pursuit of Moriarty—that will strain neither the resources of the agency nor the black portions of the broader budget. Instead, the Five Families, as this is predominantly their concern, will bear the cost…and I advise you that we are prepared to beggar our treasuries to catch this creature.
“We have already eliminated the actual trigger men in an operation at the end of last month. Now we pursue their leader, a man who has wreaked so much havoc upon our families,” Matlock explained.
Churchill blinked as he digested the aristocrat’s presentation. He already had determined that he would intercede with the Prime Minister, but, in his own way, he needed to glean a nugget of something which the Earl had intentionally left unsaid. He would get the measure of Thomas Bennet and then gracefully subside having had his entertainment.
He tried to pin Bennet using his fiercest glare before launching his assault.
“Now, Mr. Thomas Bennet of Hertfordshire, tell me why you must send someone to crawl through Himmler’s sewer?” Churchill aggressively demanded.
Bennet sat back for a moment. The politician’s manner reminded him of his brother Gardiner when the man had begun a complicated negotiation and was seeking to put his opposite number on his back foot. However, Thomas Bennet, MA, Cambridge, ’82, had not wasted his time in the halls of academe. He knew how to deal with examination boards made up of older men with calcified minds.
Churchill, surely a descendant of Queen Anne’s great captain John Churchill, was not a victim of the worst of all sins, an unexamined mind. He would not be a push-over and would never respect a man who could not join in battle on the same level. An audacious move would be the only path forward.
Bennet, thus, exposed his Queen.
Surprising his host, Bennet turned to the Earl and addressed him as his subordinate, “Tom, I must ask you to rise and stand post over us to ensure that none may overhear. I am invoking our new rule.”
Surprising Churchill, the Earl, long known in some circles to be Britain’s most powerful non-member of Government, simply nodded and rose to his feet in a manner identical to that recently exhibited by two members of the Conservative Shadow Cabinet. He moved off a few paces and faced the room, beginning a metronomic scan that took in every person within fifty feet.
Then Bennet addressed his interrogator, his Hertfordshire “r’s” rolling off the back of his tongue, making his speech sound even more archaic in a London so recently overrun by Americans and their multitude of accents reshaping and coloring their version of the King’s English.
“Mr. Churchill, I think you are taken with the extraordinary circumstances of a commoner such as I who would presume to order about an Earl, let alone the head of the British Secret Services. I assure you that young Tom would normally have bridled at such cavalier treatment by one so beneath his station.
“Matlock has assured me that you are a man used to keeping confidences of the greatest sort. And, thus, I will offer you a taste of Mankind’s greatest secret. Prior to this, the treasure has been revealed to only two others who were not at the very least married into the Bennet Family or one of its branches.
“You may have learned of the abduction of Miss Catherine Bennet who later became Lady Fitzwilliam, the Countess of Matlock. The young Earl, Henry was his name…”
Churchill briefly interrupted, “He was one of my dearest friends as was his wife Lady Kate.”
Bennet continued after a beat, “Ah yes, Lady Kate. In any event, the 11thEarl consulted with Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson as he searched for her. To meet the detective’s unusual demand for complete transparency, this Earl told him the secret.
“The information I share could shake the foundation of nations if transmitted into the wrong hands. However, we have determined that we must eschew the old ways and include those who would help us in our time of need.
“This explains why you see before you a man born in 1760 seeking vengeance for his murdered daughter and asking for your help.”
A waiter was quickly summoned to refresh Churchill’s drink and to offer Bennet and the Earl their choice of libation. Bennet smiled and chose to indulge himself in one of his favorite drinks—vintage port—in this case a generous snifter of 1931 Quinta do Noval Nacional. After all, he assumed that he was a rich as Croesus and would have ample metal to cover his drinks bill. Then two cigars appeared, duplicating the generous tube sported by Churchill.
In a deepening blue haze, the Edwardian politician and the Regency gentleman leaned toward one another and suspended the rest of the world for a while.