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The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter V

March 29, 2020 04:34PM
DNA: Thank you everyone, for reading & commenting! I hope you continue to enjoy! Stay safe! #stayathome

V. Meryton

Mr Darcy was a man who liked to move in charted territories. It was not that he did not feel himself incapable of dealing with the new and spontaneous. He was rather proud, in fact, of his mental abilities that allowed him to analyse and assess even the most outlandish situations with precision and perceptiveness. However, the fact remained that his mind thrived on the known and ordered, preferably where the ordering had been of his own doing.

In Meryton, on this morning, he therefore felt that there were definitely possibilities to improve the situation. He did not like having to rely on the cooperation of the locals – their actions, and attitudes, were always so unpredictable. And still, his new partner, Miss Bennet, was both a local and an unknown quantity to him. Complications were bound to happen and he hated complications for their disturbance of order. It was true, Miss Bennet had discharged her duties professionally and far more than adequately during her last assignment, but that had been an easy case with no personal connection for her. This here was different. He could not even blame her for any unprofessional emotion – the heavens knew he was familiar with the turmoil of fearing for a beloved sister’s safety! - but the fact remained that her personal connection made Miss Bennet a variable of unpredictable value in this equation.

It did not help that the attorney he would have to contact to hopefully, finally, obtain some useful information, was uncle to both his partner and her missing sister. He would have questioned Mrs Annesley’s wisdom in involving half the family in this affair, but she was his superior, after all, and it would not do to disregard the hierarchies. In any case, he knew how difficult it would have been for Mrs Annesley to locate a different attorney nearby at such short notice. Moreover, the Act of the Support of Chaperonage clearly obliged Mr Philips to remain neutral in this case, no matter what his personal affiliation might be.

As Mr Darcy soon found out, however, Mrs Philips was not bound by any such law, and felt free to show her partiality generously.

‘I know exactly who you are,’ she shrieked as soon as the maid had shown Mr Darcy into the parlour.

‘I beg your pardon?’

Mr Darcy had thought he would be led to Mr Philips’ office and did not know how to reconcile that expectation with the drawing room of a short, stout lady who repeatedly jabbed her finger into his chest.

‘I will not tolerate it,’ Mrs Philips said, stepping still closer towards him.

Mr Darcy could only bleakly repeat, ‘I beg your pardon?’ but it was clear that Mrs Philips was not listening to him at all as she set off on a tirade.

‘I know why you are here,’ she shrieked. ‘I have had a letter from my sister Bennet about it, and I will not stand for it. You know full well she was set to marry Mr Collins and you are not going to compromise her into anything with your new-fangled laws! Dear Miss Steele has explained it all to us how you would have her marry that godforsaken drunkard and gamester instead of the man her mama and papa chose for her and you can just forget about that. Your chaperonering may be all right for your hoity-toity Londoners but here in the country we will do things as we always have done, thank you very much!’

And with that, she began boxing him around the ears, even though Mr Darcy – who had been paralysed by the unreal qualities of the situation – could not see how she could even reach them, seeing as she was a good foot shorter than him. Then, with the help of a firepoker, she had him pushed out of the room and then the house before he could so much as explain himself to her.

Mr Darcy disliked spontaneous decisions, but in this case he spontaneously decided that he would pursue the avenue of trying to obtain information from Mr Philips some other time. For the moment, however, Mr Darcy was lost. He could literally not think of a single thing he could do right now to further this case. The only thing that came to mind was going to Longbourn to see how Miss Bennet was faring, but he dismissed that idea instantly. Miss Bennet would expect him to have found a miraculous solution to her problems, or at least, to know all the particulars of the affairs, and he felt reluctant to face her disappointment.

It was in this moment that another of those forces that Mr Darcy did not like to reckon with came to his aid: the mighty coincidence. Just as he was standing there in the middle of the road in front of Mr Philips’ house, taking care not to be run down by any cart while he pondered whether questioning the locals, an activity he disliked profoundly, could prove to be helpful, the inn’s stable boy caught up with him. He was carrying a letter and started a complicated tale of how it had ended up in his hand. Mr Darcy, hardly listening, cut him off with a quick gesture, then, hoping the letter might be from Mrs Annesley, tipped the boy much more generously than he would usually have.

Upon examining the letter, not knowing what a stroke of luck its falling into his hands would turn out to be, he first felt a profound disappointment. The letter was definitely not from Mrs Annesley. The uneven, partly blotted-out address was as far from Mrs Annesley’s neat hand as was graphologically possible. From what he could tell, the letter had followed him to several stations of his recent travels, but had never quite caught up with him.

“Darcy old man,” the letter began and although this meant that Darcy had now a fair idea of who the sender was, he could not help but be irritated at the lack of a comma in the appropriate place. He made a mental note to teach his friend about their importance before he turned back to the letter again.

”Darcy old man -

Afraid I need to ask for your help. Seem to have accident-ly muddl’d things a wee bit tho I certainly didn’t mean to. Really meant to do the hon-rable thing but seems I tried to bridle the horse from the rear and now there’s a bit of a mess wouldn’t have bother’d you knowing you’re so busy but there’s a lady’s reputation at stake and I can’t let her suffer from my idiocy.

You just know so much more about these affairs – don’t mean to imply you’ve ever been involved in one obviously – and I really hope you can help extricate us out of this all so I can marry my Jane who is an angel with all honour. Obvs-ly can’t do that while I’m still in this mess or rather it’s not me it’s her I got in the mess and we don’t know when the people from Longbourn – that’s her home – will find her tho their governess chaperone is none too bright or as she puts it a complete cow but I’m sure you’d know what to do and see it all to rights.

Y-r loyal fried

Chas. Bingley

Netherfields Herts.

Mr Darcy read through the letter twice and committed what little factual information there was to his memory. Then he folded the letter twice and tucked it into his coat pocket from which he extricated a little notebook and pencil. He wrote a memorandum to teach his friend Charles about the benefits of sufficient punctuation. He carefully tucked the notebook back into the pocket and decided that the situation called for speed. Miss Bennet would want to know what had happened to her sister. Mr Darcy hated unseemly physical activity, but he ran through the streets of Meryton – few as there were – back to the inn.

‘Take her or leave her,’ the stablemaster said gruffly.

Mr Darcy mustered the yellow nag that was searching for some meagre rests of green on the tiny paddock in the inn’s yard.

‘Your choice, mister,’ the stable master said again.

Mr Darcy shot a longing glance at his own horses which had just been walked to dry and were now munching on some bales of hay.

‘I’ll take her,’ Mr Darcy said with a sigh. ‘Does she have a saddle?’

‘Sure,’ the stable master said. ‘Will you want to sit aside or astride?’

Mr Darcy was so enraged at this crude joke that he mounted the fat mare as soon as she was brought to him, without even taking the time to change into his riding breeches or ask for directions to Longbourn. It did not matter, he told himself as the horse walked out of the stable yard. He would surely be able to ascertain the right direction.

He was at least partly right in this assessment of the situation. It did indeed not matter into which direction he wanted to go. The mare had her own ideas and no matter into which direction Mr Darcy tried to steer her, she had long decided on a suitable road and was not to be dissuaded from it by either leg or rein. Mr Darcy, who was tired of fighting after his encounter with Mrs Philips, decided that the chances that the mare knew the right way were just as good as those for the opposite. Letting her have her way with the way, he tried to at least decide the speed. Mr Darcy had always thought himself a tolerably good rider, but this horse was determined on proving him wrong. A gallop had not been in her plans for the day and the most Mr Darcy could coax out of her was a too-slow trot. She was out of rhythm and so was Mr Darcy, who tried his best to maintain the speed in a posting seat. He also began to doubt the wisdom of letting the mare decide on the way. There were not taking one of the main roads, if indeed there was such a thing in these backwaters, but rather following what Mr Darcy took to be a footpath between the fields. At last, however, Mr Darcy espied a small dower house in the distance. There, at least, he would be able to ask for directions, and be met with more help than from the vulgar stable master.

In approaching the dower house, he saw that he was mistaken. Miss Bennet exited it and that meant that it was no dower house at all, but Longbourn itself. He went through what he had read about the Bennet family, calculated how many persons had to be living there and found the results shocking. No wonder the daughters had taken to running away. All these calculations however meant that he was not paying attention to the horse any more. She had promptly used his distraction to try to fall back into walking and it cost him a lot of effort to keep the speed up. As he came up the long, straight driveway, he could see the corners of Miss Bennet’s mouth curling upwards and he flushed at the thought of how hapless he must be looking to her. He could feel sweat trickling down his back and of course the horse was trying to use his renewed distraction to her favour. No sooner had he indicated to the mare that he wished to stop when they were close to Miss Bennet, than she already had her head down in a patch of grass, stopping so quickly that Mr Darcy was almost thrown off. He hastily dismounted to cover up his imbalance and felt that he should explain to Miss Bennet that this was not how he normally discharged himself on a horse. Only then did he remember his manners and greeted Miss Bennet, taking off his hat and relaying the newest developments to her.

‘Miss Bennet,’ he said, ‘I have news of your sister. She -’

‘She is at Netherfield Park,’ Miss Bennet interrupted him. ‘We must make haste, if it is not already too late.’

Red spots appeared in her cheeks.

‘Calm yourself,’ Mr Darcy said. ‘Undue haste will not help us at all. Where is the carriage?’

‘By the stables, I guess,’ Miss Bennet said, pointing to the outbuildings and beginning to walk in that general direction.

Mr Darcy cast a look at the munching mare. He would not go so far as to say that they had become friends, but he was still loth to leave her on her own like this. Miss Bennet noticed his hesitation.

‘Augusta will be fine,’ she said. ‘One of the stable boys will walk her back to the inn when he finds her.’

Mr Darcy did not know how to react to the revelation that Miss Bennet knew the nag by name, so he simply followed her without saying anything at all. He was pleased to note that his coachmen had been efficient as usual. The horses they had rented in Meryton had been walked, rubbed down and were ready to start again. In no time at all they were back on the road once more. It was only then that Mr Darcy remembered something.

‘Miss Bennet,’ he said, ‘how did you find out where your sister was?’

Miss Bennet, apparently lost in her thoughts, looked up with a jerk.

‘The chaperone told me,’ she said. ‘Miss Steele. She knew exactly where my sister was all the time, but all she does is hand my mother her salts and ingratiate herself.’

‘Miss Steele,’ Mr Darcy said icily, thinking back to the files he had read, ‘has been under a very bad influence.’

He clenched his jaw and fists as the memory of that person came to the foreground again.

‘Miss Steele is a very bad influence all by herself,’ Miss Bennet said.

Mr Darcy thought that she sounded as bitter as he himself felt, but since he did not always do very well at reading the emotions of others, he thought it best not to say too much about it, and merely muttered, ‘aha?’

‘Miss Steele knew exactly what sort of man he is,’ Miss Bennet said, now definitely sounding bitter, and possibly also angry, ‘and nevertheless she did nothing but idle talk in order to prevent Mr Bingley from seducing Lydia, who is but fifteen and easy to impress.’

Mr Darcy thought he had misunderstood her.

‘Seduce her?’ he exclaimed. ‘But certainly not!’

‘Mr Darcy,’ Miss Bennet said and he was surprised to see her flush – was this anger again? - ‘There is no need to shelter me. Remember, I am not a woman in this matter and you are no man. She may be my sister, but I know enough to understand that Mr Bingley has seduced and probably ruined Lydia!’

‘It was an accident,’ Mr Darcy said, feeling the need to defend his clumsy friend.

Miss Bennet flushed even more, but her tone was icy.

‘Pray tell me, how does one accidentally seduce? Does it involve tripping over items of furniture?’

Mr Darcy felt the heat creep into his own cheeks now.

‘Of course not,’ he mumbled, wishing to end that particular sub-topic.

He fumbled in his pocket for the letter from Bingley and handed it to Miss Bennet.

‘I had this from him this morning,’ he explained, and added, for Miss Bennet still appeared to look confused, ‘You should know that Mr Bingley and I are long-term friends, as chance would have it, but we neither of us knew of the other’s involvement in this matter.’

Miss Bennet looked a little placated at that, he thought, and took the letter from his hands. She perused it quickly – he could see her eyes darting to and fro – and handed it back to him.

‘Your friend as an abysmal handwriting,’ she said, ‘but apart from that, I can make neither head nor tail of it.’

Mr Darcy tucked the letter back into his pocket, where it was supposed to go.

‘He is also very lax with his punctuation,’ he said, ‘but that is neither here nor there.’

‘Well, then, what does the letter tell you about my sister, Mr Darcy?’ Miss Bennet cried. ‘What do you make of it?’

‘Obviously, my friend is in love with your sister Jane,’ Mr Darcy explained.

Oddly enough, from what he could tell, Miss Bennet did not appear comforted by that assurance. Then he remembered something Mrs Philips had screeched at him and connected it with Miss Bennet’s obvious reservations about Bingley.

He added, ‘You should perhaps be aware of the fact that Mr Bingley, notwithstanding his horrifying habits of correspondence, is neither a gambler nor a drunkard – I gather that rumour has been circulating.’

‘No – yes – but -’ Mr Darcy normally disliked dithering in conversations immensely, but he found that he could just about forgive Miss Bennet in this instance. ‘My sister?’

Mr Darcy refrained from pointing out that this was not a complete sentence, although he made a mental note to write himself a memorandum to address the matter in the future.

‘As I was saying,’ Mr Darcy began anew, ‘my friend Bingley, who is neither a gambler, nor a drinker, nor a serial seducer, fell in love with your sister Jane, but through some accident or misfortune, seems to have put one of your other sisters in a compromising position that he now fears may be detrimental to all of them. He is now asking for my help to extricate your younger sister from that predicament without further injury to her reputation, and to enable him to marry your older sister, who so far appears to have escaped compromise either through him or someone else.’

Mr Darcy was unable to conceive of a manner in which he could relate this any clearer and was relieved to see Miss Bennet nod.

‘I see,’ she said.

She opened her mouth again, presumably to say something else, but in that moment, the carriage slowed and came to a halt in front of what Mr Darcy, upon looking out of the window, discerned to be Netherfield Park. Miss Bennet sighed heavily instead.

‘We are there,’ she said superfluously. ‘Whatever do we do now?’

Mr Darcy exited the carriage before the coachman could help him and then carefully lifted Miss Bennet out of it.

‘We are chaperons sworn to the English government,’ he reminded her. ‘We will do whatever duty demands.’

Then, however, because she seemed upset to him, he added, ‘Courage, Miss Bennet,’ in spite of himself and side by side, they walked up to the front doors of Netherfield Park.

The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter V

Mari A.March 29, 2020 04:34PM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter V

UlrikeApril 04, 2020 03:13PM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter V

EvelynJeanApril 01, 2020 04:55AM


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