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The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter IX

May 03, 2020 12:59PM
DNA: I'm very sorry about the longer-than-planned delay in posting. I've almost used up my buffer of stuff previously written, and even though most of this story is free association, and doesn't really follow any planning, I've still struggled with getting more written. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this, and that I can post Chapter Ten soon-ish. Thank you every one for your kind comments!

Chapter IX. Mayfair, Again

In the entrance hall, their meagre portmanteaus and Fanny’s small bag were dwarfed by a seemingly endless array of suitcases, baskets, hatboxes and diverse other travel paraphernalia. Elizabeth was too tired to wonder much about it, but she saw Mr Darcy’s eyebrows rise up his brow.

‘Darcy, darling,’ a rather shrill voice rang through the corridor. ‘I had almost despaired of you.’

It was the first time Elizabeth had seen Mr Darcy roll his eyes. She had a feeling it might turn out not to be the last time this long day or night or whatever it actually was.

‘Darcy, darling,’ the shrill voice called again, ‘where on earth can you have got to? Did I not just now hear you in the hall? I could have sworn -’

The lady who appeared in the hallway then certainly knew how to make an entrance. She was tall, taller even than Jane and - there was only one word for it - majestic. Multiple skirts in hues of orange and brown rustled as she stepped towards Darcy. The bodice of this dress was trimmed with ribbon interwoven with golden thread that sparkled softly in the candlelight. Her glorious chestnut curls were crowned with a lacy contraption in which a feather featured prominently.

‘Darcy, where were you?’ she insisted. ‘Your family needs you!’

Miss Price chose this very moment to faint. She did it as unobtrusively as possible, but as she landed right on Elizabeth’s feet, there was simply no way Elizabeth could not have noticed.

‘Dear me, have you been picking up strays again, Darcy?’ the majestic lady asked in a softer tone.

She bent down and felt for Miss Price’s pulse, almost poking Elizabeth, who was holding up Miss Price’s head, in the eye with a pheasant feather. ‘When was the last time this one ate?’

Mr Darcy, clutching at his beaver hat, looked flustered. ‘We had tea at the archbishop’s,’ he said slowly. ‘While we waited.’

‘She did not have any of that, though,’ Elizabeth pointed out. ‘And the tea at the tollhouse was hours ago.’

‘Yes, but did you feed her at all lately?’ the majestic lady insisted.

‘We have not had her for very long,’ Mr Darcy said defensively, ‘there was not really an appropriate moment to discuss alimentary arrangements.’

‘Oh, foo,’ said the lady. ‘Hang propriety. The poor thing apparently hasn’t eaten a thing in ages.’

With the help of a footman and a few maids, Miss Price was soon installed in the very room in which Elizabeth had almost slept the night before. Placed on the bed, with a pillow under her knees, she soon came to again and the be-feathered lady ordered broth to be brought upstairs, and bread and cheese.

‘And you,’ she said and her gaze turned towards Elizabeth, ‘when did you last eat?’

Elizabeth had a vague memory of having been offered refreshments at Netherfield, and did in fact feel rather hungry; she resented the other woman’s taking charge, however.

‘I am not a stray of Mr Darcy’s,’ she said instead. ‘I am a chaperone.’

The majestic woman was about to reply - probably to point out that it was the same difference - but before she could, a cry rang through the house.

‘I most certainly will not!’

The lady wrinkled her aristocratic nose.

‘Oh dear me, what has he done now?’

Elizabeth then realised that Mr Darcy had not been with them for quite a while.

As if on cue, the man - the chaperon - himself could be heard.

‘You will let me out this instant!’

The majestic lady rushed out of the room, Elizabeth right on her heels. They found the source of the commotion downstairs, where Mr Darcy’s calls and pounding fists could be heard inside the library whilst Elizabeth just barely glimpsed a petticoat disappearing - presumably with the wearer attached - into the servants’ staircase. The lady shot Elizabeth a glance.

‘If you are indeed a chaperone worth your money, then in the name of all that is holy to you, go after her and catch that chit.’

She apparently did not see the need to do so, so Elizabeth, who had come third in the class on physical fitness at Mrs Annesley’s, went after the escapee. Luckily for her, the winding staircases were quite narrow and the fleeing woman with her very many skirts could not go very fast without tripping over them. Elizabeth, whose skirts of course had been cut especially for chaperones, with a daring ankle line, was able to catch up with her quickly.

‘Excuse me, ma’am,’ she said, once she had the woman’s arm in a firm grip - politeness first a motto that had always been instilled into them at Mrs Annesley’s - ‘but I am afraid that you have to come with me.’

The woman turned around and Elizabeth could see that in spite of her old-fashioned clothing, she was rather young, only a year or two older than herself. The woman appeared to be thinking about Elizabeth’s pronouncement for a moment but then apparently decided against her chance in a flight.

‘You are one of Darcy’s strays, are you not?’ she asked, having mustered Elizabeth up and down.

‘I am a chaperone,’ Elizabeth replied, not for the first - and probably not for the last - time that evening.

The girl rolled her eyes.

‘Same difference,’ she said. ‘Oh, very well. Let’s get it over with.’

She gave up without further resistance and meekly followed Elizabeth back up the stairs. Mr Darcy, apparently, had been rescued from his predicament, for the library doors stood wide open now and inside, Mr Darcy and the majestic lady were seated on either side of the large desk. Elizabeth could now see why the lady had not attempted to run after the girl herself: she was, as her mother would have termed it, in a delicate condition.

‘You ought to keep that one, Darcy,’ the lady said upon seeing Elizabeth enter with the young girl in tow. ‘She seems to be rather useful.’

‘I do intend to keep her,’ Mr Darcy said, but Elizabeth had no time to think about this most curious pronouncement.

‘Would either of you care to inform me just what is going on here?’

None of them cared. The majestic lady shot the young girl a look that had her sit down on a sofa in a corner without further complaints. Apparently, they had interrupted the lady in a soliloquy - or possibly a diatribe.

‘As I was saying, Darcy, this whole new approach seems petty and small-minded, if you ask me. I don’t know why we can’t handle things with a little more je-ne-sais-quoi these days, really. When I was training to be a chaperone -’

‘You never finished any sort of training,’ Mr Darcy pointed out. ‘You seduced your teacher instead.’

‘My point exactly,’ the lady said. ‘Under the old rules, that was perfectly acceptable.’

‘Has it ever occured to you that you were the reason why we changed the rules in the first place?’ Mr Darcy asked.

The lady snorted.

‘Oh, foo, Darcy,’ she said. ‘Not even you would go so far as to bring a law before parliament just because you hold a grudge that I picked your cousin over you!’

Elizabeth only understood about one word in three, but she found the conversation most interesting and was wondering what Mr Darcy’s reply was going to be. Did he really have the influence necessary to bring laws before parliament? Mr Darcy, however, appeared to feel his honour insulted by another part of the lady’s speech.

‘I do not hold a - I was never in the least -’

‘The better man won,’ the lady said. ‘It’s not your fault -’

‘When you have quite finished debating the shortcomings in Darcy’s virility,’ the girl whom Elizabeth had captured drawled, ‘would you mind making up your minds where you are going to lock me up? It’s all the same to me, in case you wondered, but I’d rather get some sleep now that my departure is off the table.’

Elizabeth could only admire the supremely bored fashion in which this pronouncement was carried out. It showed years of expert training to make others feel inferior. Elizabeth’s body, however, was occupied with more mundane proceedings. Her stomach chose that very moment to rumble loudly, enhancing her feeling of inferiority. The majestic lady, without even interrupting her warnings to the girl to keep a civil tongue in her head, rang the bell and when a footman appeared, advised him to ‘bring bread and cheese, and some strong tea, and you really do not want me to send you back to your mother, young lady!’

She turned to Darcy.

‘How many times do I have to tell you that you have to feed them regularly?’

The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter IX

Mari A.May 03, 2020 12:59PM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter IX

UlrikeMay 16, 2020 08:02AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter IX

AriadneOMay 10, 2020 06:22AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter IX

Mari A.May 10, 2020 04:53PM


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