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The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter II

March 18, 2020 08:43PM
This story has been online for years, and I never intended to add to it. Some people have asked about a sequel, but I've always been reticent about that. I have been writing on one, though, for years, one and off. It wasn't meant to be published, because frankly, it's silly and doesn't make much sense (and also hasn't been proof-read by anyone but me). However, I figured, quite a few of you may be in lockdown or otherwise in need of a distraction, and might appreciate something downright silly right now. So I'll post what chapters I have, hopefully adding to the story until it can get some sort of ending. Hope you enjoy.

II. Mayfair

The carriage made its way steadily north. It was a good half hour until Elizabeth found herself able to speak again.

‘Longbourn?’ she managed to say.

Her travelling companion, who had buried himself behind his newspaper, only gave an uncommitted grunt in reply.

‘In Hertfordshire?’ Elizabeth asked anxiously.

‘I believe so,’ Mr Darcy said. ‘Here, see for yourself.’

From behind his newspaper, he tossed her a folded sheet of paper. Upon unfolding it, she saw that it was embossed with the Chaperons’ Association’s crest. She recognised the handwriting as Mrs Annesley’s immediately – countless hours of copying notes from the board in the Advanced Chaperonage lectures could leave her in no doubt. The message itself was short and simple.

Mr Darcy,

I regret to inform you that we have learnt of a potential Code 17b at Longbourn, near Meryton, Herts. Chaperoned personages were 4 sisters, chaperone was an unqualified substitute with a temporary license due to staffing shortness. I have sent all available files to the local attorney, under seal as I presume he may have a personal interest in the matter. If this message reaches you, as I hope, at Hartfield, I suggest that you arrange for a temporary substitute chaperon for Miss Woodhouse – from her files, I should suggest her former governess, Mrs Weston of Randalls – and avail yourself of all the help Miss Bennet can offer you in this situation. This note may serve as my approval of an accelerated swearing-in as per Article 5.


L.K. Annesley

This missive was scripted on business of the Chaperon’s Association and is exempt from the legislature concerning correspondence between the sexes.

Elizabeth lowered the letter with a rising feeling of dread.

‘A Code 17b?’ she muttered.

‘It means absconding from the chaperon’s oversight without permission from the chaperon or another authorised personage,’ Mr Darcy said without looking up from his paper.

‘I know what it means,’ Elizabeth said hotly. ‘I’ve read the book!’

‘Then why did you ask?’ Mr Darcy asked.

At last, he, too, lowered his paper and looked Elizabeth fully in the face.

‘You look flushed, Miss Bennet,’ he said. ‘Do you suffer from travelling sickness?’

Elizabeth shook her head.

‘Well, good,’ Mr Darcy said. ‘Are there any more questions? Would you like me to expand about Code 17?’

‘I know Code 17!’ Elizabeth cried. ‘I am upset, Mr Darcy, because it is one of my sisters who has run away.’

‘Oh,’ Mr Darcy said and then was silent for quite a while, until he finally added, ‘I can see how that might cause you distress.’

He buried himself in his paper again and Elizabeth, who did not want to talk about the matter further until she had to – and she knew that she would have to provide Mr Darcy with all the relevant details, her chaperon’s honour dictated that – leaned her head against the side of the carriage and watched the darkening countryside pass by. The exertions of the day made themselves known and although she had not planned it, she fell into a light, uneasy sleep in which the rumbling and creaking of the carriage pervaded her dreams.

Soon, the carriage stopped – too soon, in fact, for them to have arrived in Hertfordshire. Elizabeth reluctantly opened her eyes and saw that it had become so dark that Mr Darcy had had to abandon his newspaper.

‘Are we changing horses?’ Elizabeth asked.

‘We are stopping for the night,’ Mr Darcy said.

‘But – my sister – certainly -’ Elizabeth stammered.

‘An arrival in the middle of the night would do us little good,’ Mr Darcy said, ‘and in case your family has managed to keep the incident quiet, would only draw unwanted attention.’

‘Of course,’ Elizabeth said and nodded, chiding herself for having forgotten, ‘the basic rules you outline in chapter 4, minimise exposure wherever possible and refrain from employing unnecessary measures simply because they would comfort emotional desires.’

‘Precisely,’ Mr Darcy agreed.

Elizabeth was surprised to see that a true smile formed on his face and it became him well. A servant opened the carriage door and Mr Darcy, as the senior chaperon, exited first, only to then turn around and offer his hand to Elizabeth, who had not expected such a gesture at all. She climbed out of the carriage and found, to her surprise, that they were not in the yard of an inn, as she had assumed.

‘Where are we?’ she asked.

‘Mayfair,’ Mr Darcy said and climbed up the stairs of the townhouse in front of which they were standing. ‘This is my house, Miss Bennet. I hope it shall suffice. The housekeeper will prepare a room for you.’

‘Your house?’ Elizabeth repeated. ‘But is not that highly unsuitable?’

‘I should remind you,’ Mr Darcy said, ‘that in this situation, you are not a woman, and I am not a man – we are, after all, chaperons and as such, there can be no issue with our spending the night here alone.’

‘Of course,’ Elizabeth agreed.

The housekeeper showed Elizabeth to a room instantly upon learning who she was. Elizabeth was pleased to notice that in spite of her surprising arrival, the room was clean and well-aired, and all that was left to do for the maids was to dress the bed and bring a pitcher of water, some biscuits and a bouquet of freshly-cut flowers, even though Elizabeth argued she did not need those. She changed for supper – certain standards had to be maintained even when one was not supposed to be a woman, she thought – and was surprised to be directed to Mr Darcy’s study. The man – no, the chaperon, she mentally corrected herself – was pouring over a stack of documents, with a platter of sandwiches, cold meats, cheese and fruit beside him. Upon Elizabeth’s entering, he looked up.

‘Ah, Miss Bennet,’ he said. ‘Good to see you. I thought we might use the evening to acquaint ourselves with the background of the case.’

Elizabeth awkwardly got into the chair next to his. She had of course been in such close proximity to a man before, when the new law had not yet been in effect and her parents and neighbours had thrown countless dinner parties, but it was altogether different now, in this work environment. Mr Darcy had not seen the need to change for supper, but she was fascinated to notice that he had taken the time to shave.

‘I have had someone send over the files from the Head Office,’ he said and Elizabeth reluctantly tore her gaze away from his jawline.

‘I am sorry to say that they are dreadfully incomplete, for the temporary chaperone was dreadfully remiss in sending in her reports, but at least we have her background file, and the initial assessment of Longbourn,’ Mr Darcy continued. ‘I gather you are tolerably familiar with the environments?’

‘Tolerably, indeed,’ Elizabeth said. ‘Sir, did you perchance find out which of my sisters - ?’

Mr Darcy looked at her with mild surprise.

‘Miss Bennet, do not let your personal emotions cloud your judgment,’ he said. ‘I have here the official evaluation of your family home and situation, but which of your sisters would you judge the most likely to succumb to a suggestion of an elopement?’

Elizabeth had taken a bite of a sandwich, but as she pondered the situation, it began to taste like cardboard and she hastily gulped it down.

‘In case Mrs Annesley was correct in that it was a 17b,’ she said, ‘and no violence was used -’

‘Any use of force or violence would make it a Code 17a at once,’ Mr Darcy interjected.

‘- well, I – I believe it would have to be Lydia,’ Elizabeth said with a little sob. ‘I would not believe it of her either, but that my other sisters are even more unlikely to act in such a way.’

Mr Darcy flipped over a page in the report. ‘The assessment would agree with you there.’

‘What else does it say about my family?’ Elizabeth asked.

‘That neither you nor any of your sisters stand to inherit much beyond 50 pounds a year, so that any attempts at an elopement would have to be for baser motives,’ Mr Darcy said.

Elizabeth took a sip of her wine, wondering if the fact that she was not a woman meant that she could ask Mr Darcy for something stronger.

‘The neighbourhood in itself was rated as not particularly risky,’ Mr Darcy continued. ‘It seems it is a very close-knit community, which tends to discourage attempts on its weak members – unless, perchance, they come from within it.’

Elizabeth said nothing. She knew she should tell Mr Darcy about her mother’s plans to force compromises to marry her daughters, but she could not bring herself to do it. It was unlikely, in any case, that the chaperone, whoever she was, would have gone for any such measure, because even the temporary chaperons learnt that this was a punishable offense. And as such transgressions were easily found out, it would take a very silly chaperone indeed to go for such an idea – or, perhaps, Elizabeth mused, one who was able to cover her tracks exceedingly well. She decided to change the topic.

‘What do we know about the chaperone?’ she asked.

Mr Darcy pulled the other file towards himself and opened it.

‘Miss Lucy Steele, formerly of Plymouth,’ he read out. He frowned as he continued reading. ‘Previous encounter with the Chaperons’ Associations … how very irregular … I wonder who would … of course.’

He slammed the file shut.

‘What is it?’ Elizabeth asked.

‘This woman,’ Mr Darcy spat, ‘this woman should never have been a chaperone. Entangled in duplicity – ruthless – scheming – absolutely unqualified -’

He got up from his chair and began pacing the room, still muttering to himself about incompetent and shameless people, although Elizabeth was not sure whether they were the same. She took the file from where he had dropped it onto the table and began to read. Lucy Steele, it appeared, had been raised, together with an older sister, in Plymouth, by an uncle who ran a private school for boys – an arrangement that would be highly illegal under the new laws, of course. Apparently, it had already caused problems then, because Lucy Steele, or so she later claimed, had entered into a clandestine engagement with one of her uncle’s boarders. When the Act of Chaperonage had come into effect, the Steele sisters, unable to continue in their current situation, left their uncle’s in order to be chaperoned by a distant cousin, a widow who at that time was living with her married daughter, a Lady Middleton. A local family, a widowed Mrs Dashwood chaperoning three daughters, had proven to be a distant connection with the boarder Miss Steele had claimed to be affiliated with. Curiously, however, it had not been Lucy Steele who had been involved in the following scandal. Instead, a Miss Dashwood, the eldest daughter, had ended up married to Mr Ferrars, the boarder Lucy Steele had claimed a connection with. Apparently, he had stayed with the Dashwoods at Mrs Dashwood’s explicit invitation, with both of them unaware that under the new legislature, this was illegal. Testimonies of local worthies showed that it was widely believed that neither Mrs Dashwood nor Mr Ferrars had been trying to act duplicitous, but in order to prevent any future recriminations against Mrs Dashwood, Mr Ferrars and Miss Dashwood had agreed to get married. It all looked like the matter might have been solved to everyone’s satisfaction, even the Chaperons’ Association, when Lucy Steele had appeared on the scene and claimed to have a previous understanding with Mr Ferrars. Her sister corroborated her tale, but was unable to provide any proof. Lucy Steele herself could similarly not produce any evidence of her alleged association with Mr Ferrars. A lock of her hair that she had claimed to have bestowed on Mr Ferrars was not found among his possessions, nor any letters from her. Nor could Miss Steele show any letters from Mr Ferrars, claiming she had burnt them all because they were ‘basically boring and repetitive.’ Miss Steele’s uncle, when called upon, stated he could zneither confirm nor deny Miss Steele’s engagement, adding that she had always ‘been flitting after one boy or another.’ In view of all this, the arbitrator from the Chaperon’s Association (Elizabeth noticed that it had been Mr Darcy’s cousin, who had also co-authored the book with him) had ruled that Miss Dashwood had the better claim for compromise on Mr Ferrars, regardless of whether an illegal correspondence had taken place or not. Miss Steele, unwilling to return again to her family – or, Elizabeth wondered, maybe unwelcome – had applied to a local institute of chaperonage instead for schooling. She had not excelled in her studies, but nevertheless, the headmistress of the institute had given her a temporary license as a substitute chaperone even though she had not yet completed the programme.

Elizabeth could not understand how someone with so few qualifications for such a difficult positions had been assigned it when she, Elizabeth, who had received excellent marks and finished her studies, had been given the easiest possible probationary assignment.

Elizabeth was engrossed in the files that were lying before her. She hoped that through studying them, she could find out what had happened to her family, would find anything that could explain the inexplicable. Mentally, she went through all the protocols she had encountered in her training. It was no use. None of them had assumed that in a critical case, one of the chaperons involved had a personal connection to the guilty party, or indeed any party involved in the matter. The whole theory of chaperonage, everything she had ever learnt, was based on the assumption that a chaperon had no personal connection whatsoever. She was about to ponder that interesting assumption – she wondered why its implications had never bothered her during her training – when the library doors opened again. Hoping the servants were bringing more sandwiches and wine, she looked up, only to see that it was the man – or rather, the chaperon – himself, Mr Darcy, wearing his travelling cloak once more. He hastily grabbed all the files in front of Elizabeth before she could do so much as blink an eye, and when she was still seated after he had gathered everything, he seemed genuinely surprised to find her thus.

‘For what are you waiting?’ he asked. Elizabeth finally managed to blink an eye.

‘Waiting for what?’ she asked.

‘You are rephrasing my question,’ Mr Darcy said. ‘It is ungrammatical, does not contribute to the conversation at all and does in fact hold us up.’

‘Hold us up for what?’ Elizabeth asked, still confused. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘You have an unfortunate tendency to end sentences on a preposition or an interrogative pronoun,’ Mr Darcy said. ‘It does not become you. Now, can we please end this nonsense and leave?’

‘Leave for what?’ Elizabeth asked. ‘Where?’

Mr Darcy only tutted and gestured for her to follow him. Elizabeth stood up, quickly snatched the last of the sandwiches and a crumbling piece of Wensleydale and followed Mr Darcy out into the hall, where to her surprise, a maid was already waiting for her with her cloak, bonnet and shawl. In no time at all, Elizabeth was back in the carriage. Night had fallen and it had got quite cold. Mr Darcy, the fire of indignation burning hot within him, did not appear to notice that fact, but Elizabeth felt grateful to whoever had taken the time to bring blankets and hot bricks that had probably been meant for their beds. Mr Darcy gave some muttered instructions to their driver, swung himself into the carriage and they were off into the night, racing through the streets of London.

The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter II

Mari A.March 18, 2020 08:43PM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter II

NN SMarch 21, 2020 01:50PM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter II

UlrikeMarch 19, 2020 05:44PM

sorry for the double post!

UlrikeMarch 19, 2020 05:45PM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter II

UlrikeMarch 19, 2020 05:44PM


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