Blurb: Frank Churchill meets a mysterious group of people who seem to have one thing in common. But he doesn't pay enough attention when the group offers to help him with his own problem.
Posted on 2010-10-31
"Lady Catherine? May I assist you in some way?" inquired Elizabeth. It was easy to laugh when they had been unconnected; but a little more difficult when she discovered her husband's aunt poking through papers at her private desk.
"My dear niece – how many times I have I explained that you must not let your cook control your menu choices?" Lady Catherine turned, waving a piece of blotting paper on which Elizabeth had jotted down some notes for the dinner party next week. "I understand, my dear, that you are inexperienced in directing meals on this scale, considering your antecedents."
"One can only learn by doing," smiled Elizabeth. "No doubt you have found that to be true in your very long life."
"Nonsense! I must be allowed my share in the planning! I have a menu system I think you will find quite fool-proof. Meats in every course. Dear Darcy must be kept satisfied, of course."
"But Aunt Norris, Edmund and I had agreed –" faltered Fanny.
"My dear Fanny, have you no thought for Sir Thomas's reputation in our community? The very idea that his son should have no wedding breakfast given them! But I suppose you think brides must always have their own way."
"Not no wedding breakfast, aunt; we only wanted something very simple, no speeches –"
"No, no, my dear niece, I would not intrude on your plans for the world. I dare say Sir Thomas will not think you too ungrateful."
"Bad news, my dear?" asked Elinor, setting down the plate of toast, which had suddenly seemed too heavy, with a thud. Her husband looked up from his letter with a face of gloom.
"Not my mother?"
"No, no, dear. Mine."
"Your –?" she repeated, bewildered.
"My mother wants to visit us."
"That's not so bad," said Elinor cheerfully. "You mustn't worry me so –"
"And she's bringing Lucy."
At the Club
Frank flung down the letter before her and turned away to pace down the room – a gesture that might have been more dramatic if it had taken more than three and a half strides to cross Mrs. Bates's cluttered parlor.
Jane sighed. "Not your aunt?"
"Oh yes. She requests, she demands, she commands my presence. Again."
"Frank – you must have more patience," Jane soothed. Not for the first time.
"Patience, patience," he mocked, flinging himself down on the sofa, which creaked. "How can you be so calm? Do you not realize she is the only thing standing in our way? If only –"
"Please do not continue, Frank."
"But Jane –"
Jane put down her music on the piano and stood up. "I told you to have patience, dearest. Everything will sort itself out, given time."
"Why should it? That's a mere nothing to comfort babies, and you know it!"
"I said, give it time."
Frank had gone to London on his way back to his aunt, as a gesture of rebellion, against either Jane or Mrs. Churchill – he hadn't decided which. It was a futile rebellion, of course, because he was going home like a dutiful nephew anyway, but he could delay one night in the pretense that he was his own man, in control of his own destiny.
Having visited his barber, there wasn't much else to do, and he began to regret having stopped at all. There was his club, he supposed.
"I do need a drink, after all," he muttered, and gave the cab driver the address of the club.
Three whiskies later, Frank was roused from his hazy dreams by a very loud game of whist at the next table. He was much disturbed, as he had been in the middle of a nice fantasy in which his aunt was miraculously dead and he was marrying Jane in a sunlit forest glade. "Let any riff-raff in now," he grumbled, but not apparently audibly to the whist players. "Degenerate age! Fellowss getting ruder and ruder 'n thiss place," Frank complained, raising his voice. "Can't a man find nice quiet spot 'n 'sown club these dayss?" He got to his feet and made his way out of the room, not without several menacing glares in the general direction of the card game.
He thought he would make his way toward the club's library, where the older men usually napped, but to his dismay he found himself a few minutes later in a long hallway, and oddly he did not seem to remember how to find the library. But there was a door on his left. Frank opened it and stumbled into a room he did not remember ever having seen before. It was empty except for a huddled group of people around the end of a long table, who fell silent as he entered.
"'scuse me," he said. "Don't mind me – quiet, y'see. Need quiet to kill auntie 'n' marry Jane." He laughed, as this joke struck him as incredibly funny. But the group at the table all turned their heads and stared at him in the strangest way. Frank became aware that one of them was a woman – a small woman in a demure grey dress.
"Stay now," he protested, "women not allowed here. Club," he explained.
One of the men at the table finally spoke. "Never mind that – what did you say about killing your aunt?"
"Oh, that – jus' joking," said Frank, embarrassed. "Very poor taste. Do apologize, ma'am."
"You don't like your aunt?" inquired the woman.
Frank shook his head to clear it. He didn't think he was very drunk, but the room had started to seem unreal to him. He made an effort to speak clearly.
"Very wrong of me to speak badly of my aunt. She raised me, you know. It's just that she's – well, she's just so –"
"– in the way," chorused the whole group, startling him.
"Sit down, Mr Churchill," invited the man who had spoken first.
Frank slumped into a chair, bewildered. "You seem to have the advantage of me – you'll forgive me but I don't recall meeting you."
"We haven't met, but you are known to us. We had a letter of introduction," said the other. "You will be pleased to know we have much in common. My aunt died last year. In most lamentable circumstances."
"Involving a carriage accident," put in one of the other members.
"In which a trunk fell on her head."
The first man laughed and continued, "We are not against women members, you see –"
"– particularly since this lady has suffered the most of any of us." One of the other men laid his hand over the lady's, with an affectionate look. "You see, we also had an aunt."
"Who is now sadly deceased, last Easter."
"She choked on an apricot."
"It was a Moor Park," said the lady, reminiscently.
The first man gestured again to the final figure at the table. "He gets a special pass too – it's not his aunt who troubles him, you see. It's his mother."
"Troubled, in the past tense, my dear friend," corrected this man, and added to Frank, "Very unfortunate accident involving a ruby necklace and a bedpost."
More laughter, which sounded rather sinister to Frank. Frank had tried to follow the introductions, but he was still confused by the part about a letter of introduction. Who –?
He had difficulty taking in all of the conversation which followed, and later only remembered the words, "Leave it all to us," spoken, he thought, by the lady. But that seemed very unlikely – in fact, the whole thing seemed like a whisky-induced dream to Frank the next morning, and for months after. Indeed, he had almost forgotten about the experience by midsummer.
Excerpt from a letter to Jane Fairfax, from Frank Churchill:
I am sorry to say my aunt was in a great deal of pain before she died. 'Agonies' would not be too strong a term. There was not much we could do to relieve her, although I must say the new nurse from town did all a person could.
Speaking of which, I am confused by one thing. When I was leaving, my uncle was most pressing that I should send his very profuse thanks to "my friends" for engaging the new nurse. I had no knowledge of any such kind action, so I have no idea to whom I should direct my gratitude as well as my uncle's. Do you know anything of this? Could it perhaps have been my father?
Jane Fairfax's reply:
You know my opinion of surprises.The End