Blurb: Mrs Bates is not so feeble as she seems where Jane's happiness is concerned.
Posted on 2010-10-31
"…Isn't it so kind of Mr. Knightley to send his carriage for us again? I do hope…"
What was hoped, the occupants of the house would not know for several hours, as the closing door had cut off Miss Bates' stream of chatter. As soon as the maid had gone back to her dusting in the other room, Mrs. Bates leaned cautiously forward, plucking the wax from her ears. (Not that she liked seeming half deaf, but, really, Henrietta's endless chatter did grate on the nerves after a few hours. Hetty repeated the important points at double volume later anyway, so why listen twice? Or ten times, truth be told?) Moving with a spryness that belied her age, she darted out the passage and down to the street.
A quick survey of the street showed no one who would notice her; thank heaven she had managed to drop her teacup and prevent Hetty and Jane from realizing that Mr. Woodhouse had misunderstood the time and wouldn't be sending his carriage for her until a half hour after everyone else had left for Box Hill. With any luck, she would have matters taken care of and be back in place before the maid had finished dusting (a process usually hampered by the girl's tendency to preen – unnoticed, so she thought – in every reflective surface she passed). And matters did have to be taken care of.
Unlike her daughter, who noticed things but rarely bothered to think about matters in terms of cause and effect, Mrs. Bates both noticed and considered events around her. It had not escaped her that something was going on twixt her granddaughter and Frank Churchill. Moreover, once a little snooping among Jane's correspondence and diaries had confirmed this suspicion, it became abundantly clear that the main threat to her darling Jane's happily-ever-after came not from the obtuse Miss Woodhouse of Hartfield, but Frank's stubborn and selfish aunt cum adoptive mother. Poor, foolish Hetty had also occasionally threatened Jane's happiness, but really, if she as Henrietta's mother had to live with her foolishness for the rest of her life, Jane could certainly weather the occasional embarrassment. No, it was Mrs. Churchill, and Mrs. Churchill alone, who needed to be removed to smooth Jane's path.
Mrs. Bates slipped into the smoke-darkened pub, thankful for the years of collected pipe and torch smoke that reduced visibility to a few feet. Even if a neighbor did happen to wander in, he would not be sure he had really seen the highly respectable widow of Reverend Mr. Bates in the Highbury public inn.
The note she had succeeded in smuggling out of the house a few days ago had borne fruit. Two rough-looking laborers joined her at a table in the back. "'Ere," said one, betraying possible London origins, "what do you need with resurrection men, ma'am? A lady such as yourself ain't got no need for dead bodies."
"Actually," she corrected, "I do. Just one body, and just for a while."
"I need to have one corpse placed in someone's bed, and then removed before anyone else comes in. For all I care, you can sell or rebury the thing again after that."
"What'd we be putting it back in the ground for?" The second figure demanded. "Is always someone somewheres what wants a body."
"Gentlemen," Mrs. Bates surreptitiously crossed her fingers beneath the trestle for the mis-naming of the pair, "I am willing to pay 10 pounds for the exhumation of a body, having it placed in the bed of Mrs. Churchill of Enscombe, and then disposed of as you see fit. Now do we have a bargain?"
"Why do you want…" The first man started to ask.
"Joe," the second man cut him off, "ain't none of our concern why she wants it, so long as she is willing to pay us and the risk isn't too much. This Mrs. Churchill's husband still alive? Any dogs?"
"No dogs. She can't stand the hair. Mr. Churchill spends every Thursday and Friday at his club in London." Privately, she added to herself, and if finding a body in bed with her doesn't kill the awful termagant, it should scare her into a useful docility at least.
"That'll do 'er then. Payment in advance."
Mrs. Bates dropped the money in his grubby hand, managed to avoid shaking on the deal (she never would have gotten her hand free, much less clean, and poor Henry Woodhouse had such a fear of germs), and slipped back across the street. Darting up the steps, she managed to slide quietly back into her rocker and appear half asleep before the sound of wheels on cobbles heralded the arrival of the Hartfield carriage.
A few days later, all Highbury was exclaiming over the sudden, convenient death of Mrs. Churchill and the subsequent announcement of Frank Churchill's engagement to Jane Fairfax. If Mrs. Bates had a small smile on her face when her daughter shouted the news at her, the teacup hid it admirably.The End