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The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter III

March 21, 2020 02:49PM
DNA: I plan on posting a new chapter every 3-4 days, until I run out of material. I've a buffer of about 9 chapters, I hope I write quicker than I can use that up. We'll see. Keep safe, everyone! #stayathome

‘Where are we going?’ Elizabeth asked again, hoping that this time, she would have put the question in such a way as to make Mr Darcy answer.

It was a while before Mr Darcy finally answered her. Elizabeth was not sure what took him so long. His face showed some signs of an internal struggle, but Elizabeth could not think of a struggle that could be caused by such a simple, straightforward question.

‘Hertfordshire, of course,’ Mr Darcy said at last, with such an expression – or at least what Elizabeth could make out of it in the pale moonlight – of surprise at an obvious question as if he had not spent the last minute pondering it.

‘But – you said we wouldn’t tonight,’ Elizabeth said.

‘I know I did,’ Mr Darcy replied. ‘There is no need to remind me of what I said a few hours ago.’

‘But now we are going to Hertfordshire,’ Elizabeth pointed out. ‘Don’t you see a discrepancy there?’

‘I changed my mind,’ Mr Darcy said curtly. ‘There was new information to consider.’

‘The files?’ Elizabeth asked.

‘I presume that you are asking whether the files we received were the reason why I changed my mind, in which case the answer is yes, they were,’ Mr Darcy said.

Elizabeth thought that if she ever were to tell anyone of this conversation, it would be very difficult to relay it. The content of Mr Darcy’s answers to her questions was quite abrupt and unkind, and if Elizabeth had seen them written down, she would have assumed them to have been uttered in a condescending, impolite tone. Mr Darcy’s tone, however, was neutral and soft, as if this was just the way he expected any conversation to unfold. Elizabeth decided not to ponder the matter just then and instead attempted to find out more about Mr Darcy’s change of heart, or mind, whichever it was that dominated the man (the chaperon, she should say).

‘So we left because you found out who was involved in the case?’ She began again.

Mr Darcy again thought about her question for a moment but then apparently deemed any grammatical remarks not worth his while, for he simply nodded and said, ‘Yes, I suppose you could put it like that.’

Elizabeth could not resist teasing him a little, even though she was not sure whether he would even realise he was being teased.

‘Is that not highly unprofessional,’ she asked, ‘to make a decision based on such personal and subjective feelings? Are we not letting them cloud our judgment?’

Mr Darcy’s hands curled into fists and even in the dim light Elizabeth thought that she saw his knuckles whiten.

‘I have a list, Miss Bennet,’ he said, repressed anger seeping into his otherwise still neutral tone, ‘a list of seventeen people whom I abhor more than any other.’

Elizabeth could not think of anything she could possibly say in response to that, so she let him continue.

‘The person in question – whose name we will not even mention – currently holds the third position from the top on that list,’ Mr Darcy explained. ‘I will not deny that there are very strong personal feelings involved in the matter.’

Elizabeth was still too busy contemplating whether she too held a position on that list to answer.

‘However,’ Mr Darcy continued, ‘when I decided that we had to leave at once, it was not because of those personal feelings. Nothing can ever end well where that person is involved. It was simply out of consideration for your sister – whichever sister it may turn out to be – that I deemed a quick departure necessary.’

The carriage rumbled through the night, hit a stone on the road and Elizabeth was almost jolted from her seat.

‘Oh,’ she said at last, while sorting her blankets and shawl. ‘Oh.’

‘You should try to catch a little sleep,’ Mr Darcy said and his tone sounded almost kind. ‘It is a few hours yet.’

Elizabeth, whose head was feeling more leaden by the minute, decided that this was a good suggestion. She made herself as comfortable as she could possibly be under the circumstances, wrapped the blankets tightly around herself and closed her eyes.

It was still dark when she woke. She could not say how long she had been asleep. It had not been very comfortable. In spite of the blankets and formerly hot brick, she had been cold, and the high speed of the carriage made the rumbling all the worse. On the seat across from her, Mr Darcy was still sitting in almost the same pose as he had been before she fell asleep. He had his face turned to the window and was staring out into the night. Elizabeth observed the effect of the moonlight on his still face for a moment, but then some involuntary movement of hers alerted him to the fact that she had woken.

‘Did you find your rest refreshing?’ he asked.

‘Not very,’ Elizabeth confessed.

‘I am not a friend of travelling,’ Mr Darcy said. ‘But my position makes it necessary. I have spent most of the last week in this carriage.’

‘What will we do when we come to Longbourn?’ Elizabeth asked.

‘I do not know,’ Mr Darcy replied, and for once, he sounded almost human.

‘I suppose we will just have to make it up as we go,’ Elizabeth said. ‘Find out what really happened, see what we can do to – to clear up the situation.’

To help my sister, was what she really wanted to say, but she did not want Mr Darcy to accuse her of being unprofessional again. After all, even if she was not yet quite sure what to think about Mr Darcy, this mission, however much she might have been personally involved, was an advancement of her career. If she did well on this assignment, she could hope for a recommendation by Mr Darcy himself, which would surely be of great value in finding a position.

‘I hate that approach,’ Mr Darcy said suddenly.

Elizabeth, who had been pondering possible glamourous assignments she might receive, said ‘what?’

Mr Darcy sighed.

‘I wish you spoke in full sentences,’ he said. ‘It would make communication so much easier.’

‘I am sorry, what did you say?’

‘I said I hated the approach you suggested,’ Mr Darcy clarified. ‘I like to arrive armed with all the necessary information and a plan at hand.’

Elizabeth, who felt like she had been accused of something, was about to defend herself, but in spite of the darkness in the carriage, Mr Darcy seemed to have sensed this.

‘It is not your fault, Miss Bennet,’ he said, ‘nor even that of your family, I suspect, however much they may have been at fault otherwise. No, this case was ruined by someone else entirely. All the rules of documentation were ignored, no reports written, no responsibility at all –’

He broke off and since Elizabeth did not know what to say, they both sat staring out of the window into the lightening night for a good while. Finally, Elizabeth pointed to the Eastern horizon – or at least, what she presumed was the Eastern horizon.

‘Look,’ she said.

There was a faint trace of pink in the grey sky. Mr Darcy checked his pocket watch.

‘We shall be there very soon,’ he said.

As the rising sun cast more light on their surroundings, they came to look more familiar to Elizabeth. She tried to place them so she could make a guess as to how much longer they would travel when Mr Darcy spoke up again.

‘Why did Mrs Annesley think the local attorney would have a personal interest in your family’s case?’ he asked.

Elizabeth was momentarily taken aback, but then recollected the contents of the letter Mr Darcy had shown her the previous night.

‘He is my uncle,’ she said. ‘My mother’s brother.’

Mr Darcy made a disparaging noise.

‘He should never have had any connection to this case whatsoever,’ he said. ‘The local overseer should have appointed a substitute point of contact in this case. But of course –‘

Elizabeth wanted to ask whether he was talking about the involvement of #3 again, but thought it better to raise Mr Darcy’s wrath even further when she was looking for some answers from him.

‘Will we stop at Longbourn or –‘ she began.

‘We will first take rooms in a local inn,’ Mr Darcy said. ‘I trust you can recommend a local institution that will suffice?’

Elizabeth indicated that she could and gave instructions which Mr Darcy related to their driver.

‘Once there,’ Mr Darcy continued, ‘we will want to refresh ourselves and you may want to change your dress.’

Elizabeth had not thought that Mr Darcy had even noticed she had changed her dress the previous night. She was, of course, still wearing black, the only appropriate colour for any chaperone – unless, of course, circumstances called for her to blend in – but it was an evening gown of fine quality, with particularly delicate lace affixed to the low neckline and the short sleeves. She had been quite proud of the purchase prior to her trip to Surrey, but had had no opportunity to wear it there, Miss Woodhouse’s wedding having been too hasty to allow anyone involved a change of clothes.

‘I have to commend you, however,’ Mr Darcy said stiffly, ‘on adhering to the dress code so admirably.’

In a slightly more awkward tone, he continued, ‘it is a very fine dress indeed. The colour suits you.’

Elizabeth considered this an odd remark, seeing as Mr Darcy had never yet seen her in anything but black.

‘Once the hour has adequately progressed,’ Mr Darcy said before she could think of a reply, ‘you should take the carriage and call on your family. It will not draw any attention in case they were able to keep the scandal quiet. You are merely returning to them for a few days before you start your first proper position. Nothing could be more natural.’

‘What if it becomes known we travelled here together?’ Elizabeth asked.

‘I told you before,’ Mr Darcy said. ‘We are above reproach in our position. I could not compromise you even if I intended to do so. We are merely colleagues sharing a carriage out of convenience.’

Elizabeth was about to say she could think of a few things Mr Darcy might do that not even a Chaperon’s Badge would be able to explain, but thought it better to focus on the case at hand instead of on the possibilities.

‘What will you do?’ she asked.

‘I shall retrieve the documents from your uncle,’ Mr Darcy said, ‘and then wait at the inn, where I will try to ascertain if word of your sister’s elopement has already broken. I would like for you to get word to me as soon as you possibly can, about what the situation is at your home. You shall indicate to me whether you think it advisable for me to appear in my official role, or under some subterfuge – although I hate having to resort to such lowly means. However, this case –‘

Instead of continuing what was probably a further criticism of #3, he pulled an envelope out of his breast pocket and drew several sheets of paper out of it.

‘Use this paper for your messages,’ he said. ‘In the event we have to testify in court, it will make it obvious everything was above board even though you are a member of the family.’

Elizabeth stared at the official sheets of the Chaperons’ Association, which exempted the correspondents from the Act of Chaperonage, in her hands.

‘Do you think my involvement in the case could be constructed negatively?’ she asked.

‘I do not know,’ Mr Darcy said in a tone that clearly indicated the admission was causing him pain, ‘I would not have appointed you, but Mrs Annesley obviously thought that your involvement would be a boon, and her judgment is usually good.’

They reached the inn in silence and soon retreated into their adjoining rooms. Elizabeth changed into a more sensible black day dress and carefully pinned her new badge onto her chest in order to indicate her status. In the meantime, the horses had been changed and Elizabeth was back on the road and on the way to Longbourn far earlier than she felt ready.

The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter III

Mari A.March 21, 2020 02:49PM

I forgot the chapter title ...

Mari A.March 21, 2020 02:51PM

Re: I forgot the chapter title ...

UlrikeMarch 22, 2020 11:28AM


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