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The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter X

May 10, 2020 04:53PM
I have finally been able to make some progress on Chapter 11 and tentatively finish it, so I thought it only fair to post this now. I do think I shall need at least a week between chapter postings in the foreseeable future, but if I do manage to build up a buffer, they may come quicker. Stay safe, everyone! #stayathome

X. The Mind of A Lady

A lady, when she marries, invariably becomes part of her husband’s family. It is the lay of the land and one always seems rather too busy to challenge that.

Caroline Bingley, then, who previously had only called two agreeable siblings, a disagreeable brother-in-law and a handful of distant, eccentric aunts and uncles her own, upon her nuptials had taken on a large, chaotic network of half-, full- and step-relations, with eccentricities far beyond those of her uncles, and had felt compelled, for the sake of marital felicity and compliance with traditions, to make do with them as best as she could.

It was a tough challenge, the heavens help her, but she was determined not to give up, both because of the love she had for her husband, and the ambition to conquer them all. And one had to face the truth, they would be helpless without her.

She used that thought to center herself and focus on the work that still had to be done as she thoughtfully sipped her tea. It had been a long day - night - whatever it was, and finally, she had some quiet. Darcy had been sent to bed, and so were his strays, and so, most importantly, was Anne. She wondered how easily they had all given in and retired. Was she the only one who still had stamina enough to do as she pleased, and that in her condition?

Well, women had done so much more in that condition, she recalled. Vaguely she remembered Catherine of Aragon’s mother driving back invaders and the like, and had not the Austrian Empress more or less constantly been in a hopeful situation - and then of course there were pirate ladies, who were rumoured to even engineer such a situation in order to use it to their advantage - but then all they had to do most of the days was sailing ships, and they had the other pirates to help them.

She sighed and helped herself to another sip of tea. So many things that she had to take care of simultaneously, and who was able to help with that? Not Darcy, certainly, he was out cold; she had checked. In his sleep, he had been muttering something about forms, and the archbishop of Canterbury. It had all of it been most unattractive - and to think that she had pondered an attachment once! She had checked on the sleeping chaperone next, and the girl, who was smarter than she looked, had started a report on the events of the past days, probably for that idiotic Chaperones’ Association, but it gave Caroline a good idea about just what she and Darcy had come to town for. Curled up next to the chaperone was the stray, but Caroline could not really figure out her role in the whole story.

All of them were fast asleep, just like Anne, in her half of Caroline’s bed - but then of course, Caroline had laced her bedtime cocoa with the usual. She was not taking any unnecessary risks with that one while she was still under her care. She might have failed Chaperone School abysmally, but she still had her standards. Carefully, she folded over a new page in her journal, wrote “To Do” at the top of the page and underlined it once, then another time for emphasis. She paused in her efforts. Surely she ought to do something about this matter with Charles, of which she had learnt mostly from the Chaperone’s notes. After all, he was her brother, and he seemed to be in some sort of predicament - on the other hand, he did not appear to be in any particular sort of danger. He could probably wait. Caroline jotted down the first point on her list, “help Charles (when time allows)”.

Well, that was that point sorted out and settled. Anne was another matter entirely. While she was not in danger as such, the situation could not be allowed to continue like it was ad infinitum.

“Find situation for Anne”, she jotted down underneath the first point. She scratched out the word “situation” - it sounded too much of a governess placement. Although, she wondered, could that be -

No, there was no point to it, and quite on top of it, it was a fate almost worse than being locked up in a mansion with Lady Catherine as a jailor. They could just as well send Anne to Chaperon School and be done with it.

Caroline’s mind wandered back to a few years previously, when -

‘That is damnably unfair, Louisa, and you know it -’

‘It’s only a few weeks, Caroline, or a couple of months at most - you know it’s going to be mandatory -’

‘The legislation hasn’t been passed, Louisa, it won’t pass for months or years yet, who knows if it ever will!’

‘Mr Hurst says it’s only a matter of time now, and once it’s passed, everybody will be vying for places in the best academies - better that we get you registered in a chaperone school now, when we can still have our pick, don’t you think?’

‘It might never come to matter, Louisa - what matters to Mr Hurst is that he doesn’t want me in this house - I’m sorry that I’m such a burden to you but you can’t just send me off like a maid that you no longer need - it is just not fair -’

But in the end, nothing she could say would make any change whatsoever. Mr Hurst was determined to see her gone. Louisa suggested, half-heartedly, that Caroline could always marry instead of going to Mrs Annesley’s, but even she knew that it was unlikely that Caroline would find a candidate in the two-and-a-half weeks that remained before the date Mr Hurst had set. Not, anyway, if Caroline’s first pick, a friend of her brother’s, remained so horribly elusive and set on finishing the great academic work of the century. She suspected that Mr Hurst might have friends - or rather, since Mr Hurst’s character didn’t lend itself to friendships, companions in base pursuits - who might be willing to relieve Caroline’s sufferings, but in that case, chaperon school was clearly the better option.

And so, to chaperon school Caroline went. Louisa had assured her that the institution was the best that there was, soon the aristocracy would send all their daughters there, the best connections to be made, it really was not much different from the seminary, and that had been very nice indeed, had it not? Chaperon school was nothing like that at all. Caroline strongly suspected that the only girls who were sent to chaperon school to learn chaperonage were the ones whose families had no idea what to do with them. Once the law had actually passed, things might change - when families were forced to hire a chaperon, having a daughter educated might be the better option. At the moment, however, the better families were not yet making these decisions. And since the government was sponsoring the education of the chaperones in anticipation of the law being passed, there were quite a few girls there whose families had been happy to have them be somebody else’s responsibility. Quite like her own situation, in fact, only that in Caroline’s case, she reflected, there were no factors such as illegitimacy, a family scandal to cover up or even misplaced hopes of evading poverty at play.

She tried not to be too much of a snob about it, but it was quite clear that even with her grandfather having been in trade, she was easily the girl with the best family there, a notion that was reinforced by teachers praising her manners or simply showing surprise at her being there. It was by being herself in a class alone that she already managed to become its star pupil.

And thus, boredom set in. There was no point to what the books called the delicate art of chaperonage, as such, but the talking points were easy enough to learn and there was nothing new that the classes on foreign languages, comportment, or any of the other subjects thought necessary for a chaperone, could tell her. Quite the contrary in fact.

‘I think you will find,’ Caroline explained to the flustered spinster tasked with the day’s lesson on general knowledge, ‘that the Empress Matilda’s claim on the throne was at least as good as that of Stephen of Blois -’

She could not finish her most excellent argument, however, because she was rudely interrupted by what she could only assume was another of the teachers, clad in the chaperons’ usual dull black and armed further with an academic robe. He was a somewhat stout individual with actually windswept hair instead of coiffure that merely attempted to look thus. She disliked him instantly.

‘Miss Bingley, I presume?’ he said and she was shocked to discover that his voice was full and deep and far too disconcerting.

‘Your reputation precedes you,’ he said when she did not react. ‘Now, if you could let Miss Elton continue her lesson and step outside with me for a moment?’

He let her out the lecture hall and into a small office just down the hallway, where he flung his robes onto a hatstand and gestured to her to sit down across from him at the desk.

‘What are you doing here, Miss Bingley?’ he asked.

Caroline took in, with much disapproval, that his nose was not at all aquiline, even if somewhat symmetric, and that although he was, she supposed, still rather young, he had lines in the corners of his eyes.

‘I am training to be a chaperone,’ she said. ‘What does it look like?’

He opened a file that, Caroline now realised, had been sitting on the desk the whole time. She noticed that his fingernails were neatly trimmed and he wore only a signet ring as jewellery.

‘You have not even told me your name yet,’ she said. ‘What authority do you even have here and why should I answer any of your questions?’

She rose from her seat and made to leave.

‘My name is Richard Fitzwilliam,’ he said, his tone even and his voice still annoyingly full and deep. ‘I am in charge of your upcoming examinations, and you, Miss Bingley, have been an extraordinary nuisance.’

‘I have not!’ Caroline exclaimed.

12th May,’ Richard Fitzwilliam read from the file, disturbed French grammar lesson with a discussion of the subjunctive -

‘I was right,’ Caroline interjected, ‘she was explaining it all wrong and those stupid chits were copying her -’

14th May, interrupted horticultural lecture with remarks on Sir Isaac Newton -

‘Copernicus!’ Caroline amended. ‘She was telling them the sun moves around the earth!’

17th May, distributed drawings of an anatomical nature -

He looked up from the file and mustered her.

‘Dare one ask, Miss Bingley, which anatomical items in particular?’

‘If I have learnt anything at all in this stupid academy, it’s that that is a question one should never ask of a lady!’

Caroline made for the door, but in her haste to reach it, managed to tangle one or two of her many skirts around the chair, causing the chair to fall over and herself to stumble.

‘Watch out there!’

Richard Fitzwilliam moved in her direction in a quick, cat-like move but disconcertingly, she regained her balance before he could offer her his hand. Instead of extending it, then, he folded his arms before his chest and smirked at her. Caroline, lacking her usual quick wit, huffed and left the room, not sure if she was being disciplined or not.

She ran into him again early the next morning, when she was sneaking out of the building for a bit of fresh air before breakfast. She had made for her usual escape route - a set of French doors opening into a small garden near the kitchen, which, the doors being hidden by thick curtains, not many people seemed to know about. Unfortunately, though, this morning, the small corridor leading towards them was not empty as usual. Richard Fitzwilliam was leaning on the wall next to the curtains, smirking again.

‘There’s nothing wrong with wanting a bit of fresh air,’ Caroline said hotly. ‘And some quiet.’

‘There is not,’ Richard Fitzwilliam conceded. ‘You are, however, all alone.’

‘I am not,’ Caroline pointed out. ‘You are here.’

‘That I am,’ Richard Fitzwilliam said. ‘And I am a chaperon, and not some nefarious character -’

Caroline snorted.

‘Some nefarious character,’ she huffed, ‘that broke into this fortress, only to lurk by the kitchen gardens on the chance someone might come that way - you just want to catch me breaking some rule!’

She stormed past him into the little garden, revelling in the bracing fresh air. Disappointingly, he did not follow her.

‘You seem really intent on seeing me, Mr Fitzwilliam.’

‘You seem really intent on breaking havoc.’

‘I was not breaking any havoc whatsoever!’

‘Did you or did you not say some very rude things, in Italian, to Miss Thorpe, after that misunderstanding about the hairbrush?’

‘I merely gave her an example of what Lucretia Borgia might have said!’

‘Now, Miss Bingley, to be fair, I only have an approximate understanding of what you said, due to Miss Thorpe only being able to give me an onomatopoeic impression -’

‘Well she should have been able to understand, if we had a decent Italian mistress!’

Caroline groaned.

‘Why is it always you I have to see?’

‘Because the other instructors, my dear Miss Bingley, feel that you do not listen to them.’

‘And you think I will listen to you?’

‘Oh, no, I am under no illusions there. But I do like seeing you.’

Caroline grew slightly hot under her collar, but did not let this on. Instead, she snorted and stormed out of the room.

‘Am I really to believe, Miss Bingley, that you got into a fight because your classmate disagreed with you on the subject of Sir Thomas More?’

‘Foo - Isabella Thorpe wouldn’t understand the first thing about Sir Thomas More even if the knowledge were beaten into her skull!’

‘Which you then took upon yourself to do?’

‘Tell me, Miss Bingley, to what circumstances do I owe the pleasure of your company today? Did somebody disagree with you on a historical matter? Was it linguistic? Philosophical?’

‘Who says I did anything?’

‘Well, I could flatter myself that you entered my office just now simply because you wished to see me, but you will find me more of a realist than that, so -’

Caroline huffed and, by now quite wise to the trap the legs of the chair offered, left the room without getting any of her skirts entangled.

‘Before we proceed to the usual course of events, Miss Bingley, that is, me saying something completely innocuous, and you leaving my offices without giving me any explanation for your behaviour whatsoever -’

‘I do not have to explain myself -’

‘Now, now, before we do that - I just have to ask, I am curious - do any of the other instructors know that, so far, I have not yet succeeded in being any sort of disciplinary influence on you?’

‘I do not need to be disciplined!’

Caroline made to storm out of the room again, but Richard Fitzwilliam, smugly seated behind his desk, as usual, raised his hand to pause her, and for some reason, she did.

‘I never said you did, Miss Bingley,’ he said, leaning forward. ‘But your other instructors seem to feel quite keenly on the matter, and they do keep sending you here.’

Caroline swallowed. He looked unbearably smug, but it did give his eyes quite some sort of twinkle - however, she really did not wish to remain in the room any longer - especially as he kept staring at her in that annoying way of his -

‘I am a woman of one-and-twenty, and I really do not deserve to be treated like a schoolgirl!’

She stood up and found, to her surprise, that Richard Fitzwilliam had risen from his seat as well.

‘Wait, wait,’ he said. ‘Before you storm out - shall I open the door for you?’

She chose not to reply to this at all, merely allowing him to cross the room and holding the door open for her.

‘By the way,’ he said as she exited the room, ‘I do not see you as a schoolgirl, and I do not intend to treat you like one - my apologies if I have.’

In spite of herself, Caroline felt slightly embarrassed of herself.

‘An inkwell? You dunked her braid in an inkwell? And you wonder why they sent you to my office again?’

Caroline said nothing.

‘Out of the wide array of options for rebellion, you chose to dunk Miss Thorpe’s braid in an inkwell?’

Caroline remained silent.

‘Sometimes I do wonder whether you do this with the sole purpose of seeing me, you know,’ Richard Fitzwilliam said.

‘So what if I did?’

‘Nothing, nothing at all,’ Richard Fitzwilliam said, leaning forward in his seat and mustering her in that intent manner he had. ‘I dare say it will wash out of her hair, so no lasting harm done - but I have to wonder, why, Miss Bingley?’

Caroline had to wonder that herself.

‘You do not belong here,’ Richard Fitzwilliam said. ‘You do not wish to be a chaperone, you care not overly much for any one person in this institution, and as you said, you are not a girl sent here to learn anything - why should you stay here?’

Caroline looked at her hands clasped in her lap.

‘Because I cannot go back,’ she mumbled.

Richard Fitzwilliam sighed heavily. He got up from his chair and moved over to her side of the desk, where he leaned on the edge of it.

‘Sometimes, my dear Miss Bingley,’ he said, ‘forward is the only way to go.’

Caroline looked up and straight into his twinkling eyes. He was so close she could feel him breathing.

‘That’s an idiotic thing to say.’

‘I guess it is,’ Richard Fitzwilliam said and ran a hand through his hair.

‘I guess you’re not completely wrong though,’ Caroline said and stood up from her chair so that she was at the same height as him. With one swift move, she had closed the distance between them and flung her arms around his neck.

The enthusiasm with which he responded threw them both of their feet, but then, the floor offered a much better stage for what needed to be done. It was only much later, still panting slightly, that she noted that it really could have done with some dusting.

‘You’re expelled,’ Richard said next to her. ‘If you want to be, that is.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Caroline said, leaning up on her arm.

‘You’re expelled,’ Richard repeated. ‘Meaning, you are no longer a chaperone legally. Meaning -’

‘Meaning, I’ve just been compromised?’ Caroline said, catching on.

‘Meaning, your only way forward - would be me,’ Richard said. ‘Only if you want to - that is -’

Caroline traced the faint line of a scar on his shoulder.

‘Get form 12a ready,’ she muttered, bending down to kiss his clavicle. ‘And then compromise me so thoroughly there is no way back.’

Caroline woke with a jolt; the child had started a merry jig at the very worst moment, just when the memory was getting really good - a glance at the clock by the candle burnt low told her that more time had passed than she thought, for it was nearly morning. Next to her, Anne was still out cold, snoring faintly. Caroline put the unfinished list on the nightstand and gingerly tried to shift her position.

She had just found a comfortable one when a woman’s scream rang through the quiet house.

The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter X

Mari A.May 10, 2020 04:53PM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter X

UlrikeMay 16, 2020 08:17AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter X

UlrikeMay 16, 2020 08:18AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter X

EvelynJeanMay 12, 2020 03:59AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter X

KathCMay 11, 2020 03:57AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter X

Margaret FMay 12, 2020 06:57PM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter X

GinnaMay 18, 2020 12:30AM

Never mind! nfm (nfm)

GinnaMay 18, 2020 12:34AM


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