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The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter VI

April 03, 2020 10:46AM
VI. Netherfield


If Elizabeth had not known what to expect when she approached Longbourn, this was nothing to how she felt when she and Mr Darcy walked up the front stairs to Netherfield. How would she face Lydia? What could she say to her sister – and how could she know if what Mr Darcy had suggested had happened was actually true? She had only Mr Darcy’s word as to Mr Bingley’s character, and she was not certain whether she trusted him. It was true, she did not exactly have a reason to distrust him either, but for the moment, he remained a puzzle to her and she was wary.

Mr Nichols, the butler, opened the door for them and the familiar face eased Elizabeth’s anxieties a little. Both Elizabeth and Mr Darcy showed him their badges and Mr Darcy handed him his card. Mr Nichols nodded, indicating that no further explanation was necessary, and led them to the drawing-room. He opened the door and announced, ‘Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and Mr Darcy, of the Chaperons’ Association.’

‘At last!’ a male voice ejaculated from within the room. ‘By Jove, what took him so long?’

Elizabeth entered the room after Mr Darcy and realised that she had not even known how unprepared she was for what awaited her within.

‘Lizzy!’

‘Jane!’

There, then, was Jane – and suddenly the mystery of the handling of the crisis at Longbourn made sense. There had been no Jane to hold everything quietly together, to keep her mother’s hysterics at bay and her sisters in check, to gently remind Miss Steele of her duties and to insist her father do something. Jane had left and Longbourn had fallen apart within hours. The only questions that remained were how Jane had ended up here, and why. For the moment, however, the most overwhelming emotion for Elizabeth was happiness to see her beloved sister again, and apparently safe and sound. It was only when the two women reluctantly broke apart that Elizabeth became aware of her surroundings: the comfortable, but unfashionable drawing-room with its faded covers and curtains, and the young man with the fair hair and the open, friendly face standing with with Mr Darcy. Mr Darcy introduced him as Mr Bingley, as Elizabeth had expected him to, and Elizabeth in turn introduced Jane. Mr Darcy replied with the appropriate formalities, but then suddenly stopped mid-bow.

‘Miss Jane Bennet?’ he exclaimed. ‘Miss Jane?’

‘But who else?’ cried Mr Bingley. ‘I wrote to you, she is my angel and I cannot be sorry enough that I got her I this deucedly peculiar situation.’

‘You wrote nothing of the sort,’ Mr Darcy said stiffly. ‘What did you do, Charles?’

At that question, Mr Bingley turned red to the tips of his ears and Jane coughed furiously.

‘It was an accident,’ Mr Bingley muttered.

‘How does one accidentally seduce a lady?’ Mr Darcy asked. ‘Did you trip over items of furniture?’

Elizabeth’s surprise at Mr Darcy’s borrowing her turn of phrase could only very briefly distract her from the question that urgently presented itself: Had Jane been seduced, and compromised, and if yes, how far?

‘That’s not at all how it happened,’ Mr Bingley said hotly. ‘I meant to do it the honest way, I told you – did you bring the thing?’

‘For heaven’s sake, Charles, don’t speak in riddles!’ Mr Darcy exclaimed. ‘How can I bring a thing if you never asked me to do so, nor ever specified said item?’

‘The license!’ Mr Bingley cried. ‘We need one of those new licenses, don’t we? I remember you telling me about them things, but I can’t recall what you said it was called, it sounded dreadfully complicated. I’m sure you will know what to do.’

Elizabeth felt as puzzled as Mr Darcy looked. Jane seemed to have noticed their confusion. She placed a hand on Mr Bingley’s arm and said, ‘Why don’t we sit down and explain all from the beginning?’

‘Yes, please,’ Mr Darcy said faintly and Elizabeth nodded her agreement. Jane showed them to the sofas and rang the bell for tea. Elizabeth noted that she was behaving like the mistress of the house and wondered whether this was a good or a bad sign. Mr Darcy, now completely the chaperon again after the initial confusion, got out his notebook and opened it to a new page. Elizabeth of course knew how to write a first assessment protocol, but prying over Mr Darcy’s shoulder, she was surprised by the elaborate clerical script he was using.

The Twenty-seventh day of July, in the County of Hertfordshire, Parish 94271,
Procès-verbal written by Fitzwilliam R. Darcy in the affair of file no. 1761311-VI/7,
Deputy Chaperone Elizabeth Bennet,
In consequence of the viva voce examination of Charles Th. Bingley and Miss Jane Bennet, wherein Charles Bingley, Esq., of Westminster, Middlesex, Parish 1768, hath made the following statement,
that he took possession by way of renting, of the estate “Netherfield Park,” near Meryton, Hertfordshire, Parish 94271, on Michaelmas Quarterday the previous year, registering his residence with the Chaperons’ Association as bachelor without female appendage with the need for chaperonage on the second day of October the same year;
that on or around the said second day of October, he first met Miss Jane Bennet at a local assembly for the purpose of dancing, whence said Miss Bennet was escorted and subsequently chaperoned by her own lady mother;
that over the course of the following two months (eae sunt October & November) he and the said Miss Bennet repeatedly encountered each other at several occasions frequented by the genteel populace of Meryton, Hertfordshire;
that during all these encounters, he and the said Miss Bennet behaved at all times with the strictest decorum and in accordance with the law of the land, particularly where it regards the question of chaperonage;
that around the twenty-sixth day of November of the same year, he left the estate of Netherfield for his home parish in Westminster, Middlesex, for reasons of business;
that he remained in Westminster for no longer than a week and that during this time he resolved to make an offer of marriage to the said Miss Bennet, citing the reason of a presumed mutual affection and a general agreeableness of her person;
that in order to make this offer, he requested an interview with the father of the said Miss Bennet (i.e. Mr H. Bennet, Esq., of Longbourn, near Meryton, Hertfordshire, Parish 94271) on the day following his return, this day being no later than the fifth of December of the said year;
that, however, when attempting to pay his compliments to Mr Bennet upon said return, he was being denied that opportunity under the claim that Mr Bennet was not at home to visitors;
that, when he repeated his attempts during the following days, he was eventually told that Mr Bennet was not disposed to see him at any time and that, furthermore, he was desired to vacate the premises at once, not being welcome there anymore;
that, upon receiving this information, he had felt very dejected and would have felt his suit failed, had he not, through sheer chance, met Miss Bennet again at a party held at Lucas Lodge (owned by Sir William Lucas, Parish 94271) a few days later;
that during said party he “accidentally” (as he termed it) disclosed his intentions of marriage to Miss Bennet and was delighted to find that she was agreeable to his suit and did, in fact, accept his addresses almost instantly;
that from this point forth, he and Miss Bennet considered themselves engaged to be married although no Chaperon’s Waiver of Liability nor Parent’s or Guardian’s Release Form had been signed;
that, in fact, Miss Bennet advised Mr Bingley almost instantly that parental consent to their proposed union would be almost impossible to obtain;
that Miss Bennet cited rumours of an unwholesome nature concerning the character, habits and preferences of Mr Bingley, which rumours, according to Miss Bennet, had been circulating for some time, as the reason for this;
that Miss Bennet was not completely certain about the source of these rumours but believed them to have originated with her own chaperone, Miss Lucy Steele, of Plymouth (Parish 32583);

Here, Mr Darcy paused his rapid pen and Jane interrupted her narrative, looking at him.

‘I do not doubt your judgment, of course, Miss Bennet,’ he said, ‘but why exactly are you convinced that your chaperone is the source of these rumours?’

‘Because she is a stupid cow,’ Jane said with fervour. Elizabeth, who had scarcely ever heard her sister speak like that, and certainly never in mixed company, was both shocked and instantly certain that Jane was speaking with sincere conviction.

Mr Darcy cleared his throat, but showed no further reaction to Jane’s way of speaking.

‘And in what way did you arrive at those conclusions?’ he asked.

To Elizabeth’s surprise, Mr Bingley blushed at that question.

‘She propositioned me,’ Mr Bingley said.

‘Propositioned you?’ Mr Darcy repeated in the exact same manner he had criticised in Elizabeth the night before.

‘Well, you know how it is,’ Mr Bingley said, ‘you must have had dozens of offers yourself, I say, what with your money and your position, and I guess you’re not too ugly -’

It was apparent that it took Mr Darcy quite a while to work out Mr Bingley’s meaning, but when he did, Elizabeth noted to her amusement that the tips of his ears were turning red.

‘No, in fact I have not,’ he said, ‘apart from – you know – and I dare say she is quite over me now.’

‘Oh, she is,’ Mr Bingley laughed, ‘it was only ever about your house, you know.’

‘Yes, can we get back to the matter of Miss Steele?’ Mr Darcy said hastily. ‘With what purpose in mind did she proposition you?’

‘Is there any other purpose to a proposition but the obvious one, Mr Darcy?’ Elizabeth asked, slightly distracted by the colour of his ears.

‘She must have had the obvious purpose,’ Mr Darcy said, ‘for she could not have hoped to entrap him into marriage.’

‘No, really, Darcy, I don’t think -’ Mr Bingley began. ‘I mean, I’m not – why would she want to -’

Jane gave Mr Bingley a look that said quite clearly that she had no problem imagining Miss Steele’s motivation and Elizabeth did not know whether to be diverted or embarrassed by her sister.

‘I do not think there is any need to discuss the details of your seduction,’ Mr Darcy said. ‘Especially not in the presence of Miss Bennet.’

‘I was not -’ Mr Bingley began hotly, but Jane placed a hand on his arm and he stopped.

‘Whatever Lucy planned,’ Jane explained, ‘she did not succeed, for Charles was not at all interested in her.’

‘Whatever her plan was,’ Mr Darcy said, ‘it would not have worked, because Mr Bingley could not have compromised her.’

Elizabeth finally picked up on his meaning.

‘Oh!’ she said.

‘What?’ Mr Bingley asked.

‘A chaperone,’ Elizabeth recited, ‘may be compromised in the technical sense, but never in the legal, for her position places her outside the application of the Act of Chaperonage; it condones her being in the presence of men without needing chaperonage of her own and thus, no marriage can be arranged as a consequence of her being found in a compromising position nor can she bring forward any legal action against her collaborator in a scene classified as compromising. Any and all assaults on her person, whether in violent form or made with the aid of duress or subterfuge, are exempt from this clause and may be answered with legal actions regardless of the circumstances.’

She could see Mr Darcy’s chest swell with pride as she quoted from his book and knew instinctively that he had penned this particular passage.

‘That does not really signify anything,’ Jane said. ‘I am not even sure Lucy would ever have opened her books, even if she could read.’

Elizabeth knew her sister well enough to recognise that such unprecedented viciousness had to be rooted in a very personal attack on Jane, and she came to the understanding that was obviously still eluding Mr Darcy.

‘So Lucy Steele tried to sever any connection between you and Mr Bingley in whatever way she could in order to entrap Mr Bingley herself, not aware that she was barred from doing so by the law?’

‘Breaching the Chaperons’ Code of Conduct quite severely,’ Mr Darcy added under his breath, ‘not to mention common decency.’

Jane, apparently glad that they had finally caught on, nodded energetically and Mr Bingley ejaculated, ‘She tried to have Jane compromised by Mr Collins – greatest buffoon I have ever met, Darcy, and I am brother to Algernon Hurst!’

‘And so you set out to compromise her yourself,’ Mr Darcy observed.

‘No – yes – I did not set out to, but eventually -’

‘The point is,’ Jane said calmly, ‘I have been well and truly compromised, both legally and technically, so can you get us a wedding license?’
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter VI

Mari A.April 03, 2020 10:46AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter VI

UlrikeApril 04, 2020 03:21PM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter VI

EvelynJeanApril 04, 2020 01:15AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter VI

JoannaApril 03, 2020 02:38PM



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