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The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter XI

June 04, 2020 01:10PM
Unfortunately, it is taking rather longer to write these chapter than I'd like it to be - at the moment, I can't say when I'll be able to post the next one. I hope Darcy's acute discomfort here makes up for the delay at least a little.

XI. Mayfair in the Morning

Fitzwilliam Darcy normally enjoyed the deep, dreamless, restful sleep of a man who knows that he has no reason to berate himself. There were no tortured nights of tossing and turning for him. His mind was too well-regulated to need such a release.

This night, however, had been different. How could he, how could Fitzwilliam Darcy, the first and foremost authority in the matter, have forgotten such a trivial thing as a signature? The answer was uncomfortably obvious: he had not been as careful as he liked to think he was. Resolves to be more diligent, however, were not enough for his troubled mind. Unbidden, unwanted images kept arising: Elizabeth Bennet - a government-approved chaperone, no less! - Elizabeth Bennet dozing in the carriage, Elizabeth Bennet - a chaperone whose investment he had himself overseen! - laughing at him, Elizabeth Bennet - whom he himself had examined! - in agony over her sister’s fate, Elizabeth Bennet - whose severe black chaperone’s robes fit her so perfectly! - flushed and slightly out of breath, standing in his study, curls loose around her face, after she had apprehended a fugitive Anne - and upon that prompt, different problems arose, what was he to do with Anne, and Caroline, and the stray, Miss Price, when all he wished was to be alone with Elizabeth Bennet - in order to help her sister, and his friend Charles, in the professional manner that was needed, because he was a government-approved chaperon, and so was Elizabeth Bennet, a very professional chaperone - in front of whom he had been embarrassed by that infuriating archbishop, with that cursed forgotten signature, she must think him such a fool - curse the archbishop -

Nonetheless, in spite of not having enjoyed much rest, Fitzwilliam Darcy rose, as was his wont, just before the break of dawn, woken by the arrival of the milkman, as usual. He performed his morning ablutions with the necessary precision and dressed himself, noting that his valet had laid out his very best black waistcoat for him, the one that Georgiana said brought out his eyes. The man was clearly overstepping his bounds, but since Fitzwilliam would have chosen the same waistcoat, had he permitted himself to even think about choosing a particularly appealing waistcoat, he was willing to let the matter slide for the moment. He then turned to his cravat, the precise placement of which required his unmitigated attention. He arranged his hair until it had achieved just the right degree of kemptness without looking too natty. Next on the agenda was the return of the items he usually carried with him to their assigned places within his pockets. He winced slightly as he touched his journal, the integrity of which he had been forced to harm the previous night when rescuing Miss Price. However, it was not to be helped. He had already made a note of acquiring a new one when he had brought the previous day’s mental notes to paper the night before. His pencils, likewise, had already been sharpened, leaving him prepared for all eventualities. Thus armed against the censures of the world, he was ready to face the day.

He sighed. He knew already it was going to be a trying day. There was, after all, the matter of his dreadful mistake to handle, even though he certainly had enough else to do. Once in possession of the complete paperwork, Bingley’s marriage had to be expedited, preferably before the union could produce offspring - little though he wished to think about it, there appeared to have been opportunity for that aplenty, but that was still no excuse to delay the matter any further. Then, of course, there was Miss Price, who needed a situation, and Anne, who also needed to be placed somewhere, somehow, not to speak of his cousin’s termagant hurricane of a wife, who, above all, needed to be as far away as possible. The Arctic Circle sprang to mind. This, however, was a task for later. Priorities had to be observed.

He sighed again. First, he needed to plan the day, for it was going to be a long one. He made his way to the small office adjacent to his dressing-room, which he used for precisely this task. Sitting down at the little bureau, he extracted from one of the drawers the directory of magistrates concerned with affairs of chaperonage. All he needed to do was find out the number of the parish where the incident had taken place and -

Fitzwilliam Darcy uttered an expletive that he had never used before in his life. How could he have allowed himself to stray this far from all procedure? He had raptly listened to Bingley’s adventurous tale without ever verifying any details or taking down the particulars of the incident, all because Miss Elizabeth Bennet had been so interested in finding out what had happened to her sister. Now he had no idea whether he needed to approach the magistrate responsible for Longbourn, the one for Netherfield Park or, mayhap, someone completely different, because he would not put it past Bingley to frolic across parish lines with no thought to the bureaucratic nightmare he was producing.

There, then, went the first item on his task list. He neatly crossed ‘visit local magistrate as soon as possible’ out. Instead, he must see Bingley again, extract him from the arms of his lady love, and, once he had him on his own, ask him a few very delicate questions about just what had happened when and where precisely. He sighed once more. He would have to process quite a few pieces of information he never wanted to possess in the first place just for that one detail that mattered. That item was thus added to the list. Before he could come to a decision what the next step would have to be, however, a woman’s scream rang out. Fitzwilliam stood up, trying to gauge the direction whence it came, when he noticed that the woman was using the same curses he had employed just moments before - and the voice was one he knew all too well -

Anne came to with a fuzzy head. She really needed to stop Caroline spicing her bedtime cocoa with such liberal amounts of rum. Sure, it was delicious, but she really did not like waking up feeling something had died inside her. Oh well. If all went according to plan, it was not for very much longer anyway and - a deep rumbling next to her shook the bed. Caroline was snoring again. Softly, so as not to wake her, Anne turned around and observed her in the warm light of the candle burning low on her nightstand, so very close to the bed-curtains - a miracle that they had not all burnt down in the night! A veritable mountain under the duvets, Caroline was snoring majestically, mouth hanging open, clutching her pencil still, one of her lists resting precariously upon her heaving bosoms. Anne wondered whether she would be able to sneak out of the bed, gather her drawing materials and make a quick sketch of it all without waking Caroline. Alas, the mountain shifted and the snoring became uneven. She would have to draw from memory later on. Anne closed her eyes again and feigned being asleep as Caroline removed the papers stacked on top of herself, blew out the candle, and groaned while shifting her weight around. Anne almost pitied her, but then remembered that the nasty taste in her mouth was all Caroline’s fault. She contemplated waking Caroline this early with another attempt at escaping. Suppose she got up now and dressed, surely Caroline would wake up from the noise - and if not, it was not that far to the post coach station - ah, but she must be patient -

Before she could ponder further what she could do to annoy Caroline, and whether an escape attempt would be worth it, a scream rang out through the early morning. Anne could not help but applaud the screamer for creativity at the colourful expressions.

Caroline groaned some more. The bed shifted precariously as Caroline heaved herself to an upright position. For a quick moment, Anne debated feigning sleep, but her curiosity got the better of her and she awoke theatrically.

‘What is going on?’ she mumbled, speech carefully slurred just a tiny bit.

Caroline had sat down on the bed again, fishing for her slippers with her swollen feet.

‘Oh, for God’s sake, make yourself useful,’ she said. ‘It’s one of Darcy’s creatures, obviously, probably stuck in some sort of nightmare - get them to calm down, will you?’

Apparently, Caroline did not think Anne would attempt an escape in her nightgown, letting her out into the corridor all alone like this - would she be able to make it to the front door? - no, patience, no need to disturb carefully laid plans - Anne dutifully made her way to the source of the screaming.

Fanny Price came to in most unfamiliar surroundings. The light that shone through the partially opened curtains was the pale grey light preceding dawn, but everything else, she needed a moment to place. She was at Mansfield no more - no longer in her well-known, narrow bed with the slightly sagging mattress - this was a glorious, large, four-poster bed, and the linens smelled all different - she was in London, in the strange house full of so very many wildly-talking people they had taken her to yesterday. The woman next to her, the one with the kind, laughing eyes, was her chaperone - her very own chaperone, when Maria and Julia had to make do with Aunt Norris! She was also the reason why Fanny had woken before dawn, because she was sitting upright in bed, yelling a curse that Fanny could not fully comprehend.

Fanny sat up.

‘Are you - are you feeling well?’ she asked tentatively.

Her chaperone - Miss Bennet - Elizabeth - followed with another long list of expletives. Fanny blushed violently. Some of these things she had understood.

‘Would you like a glass of water perhaps, Miss Bennet?’ she asked.

Miss Bennet turned around, taking Fanny in as if she had just noticed her presence.

The door to the room burst open.

Elizabeth had had a fitful night. For about an hour or two, she reckoned, her body had simply been grateful to have been allowed to rest in a solid, non-moving bed, in the dark and quiet. She had fallen asleep almost as soon as her head hit her pillow, before she had so much as a chance to go over her notes and organise her thoughts about what needed to be done next. Then, however, while her unconscious mind tried to sort all that had happened to her in the last days, the dreams had begun and she had woken quite a few times wondering where she was and whether what had just happened had been real or imagined. There had been endless paperwork to work through in the dreams, piles that just kept getting larger - and then Mr Darcy, always looming somewhere, finding fault with the paperwork, reminding her to cross-reference sections - she had started to scream at him them, and he had yelled back and then, in a flash of blinding light, she had kissed him and - she had woken in mortified terror, tossing quite a bit until she drifted off again, finding herself wandering through the gardens back at home, but the pretty little wilderness had become a vast jungle through which she had to make her way until after what felt like hours, she finally arrived at the house and found all the family assembled in her old bedroom, Jane sitting on the bed with Mr Bingley, demanding where their marriage license was, her mother sat at the vanity, shrieking and wailing while Miss Steele fed her tiny pastries, her father shouting for quiet whilst Mary chased Kitty through the tiny room for a piece of torn muslin. It felt as if the room became smaller and smaller, every bit of it crowded, everyone coming closer, everyone except -

Elizabeth was woken by her own screamed curse and found, much to her own surprise, that once she started, she could not stop. Everything that had built up within her over the last few days, she could now vent in the most satisfying manner. It was only when Fanny Price spoke to her that she realised that she was not alone in the room, and that in fact, quite a few people might have overheard her. The door to her room opened and there stood Anne de Bourgh, with the same supremely bored expression she had worn the night before.

‘I do not think all of that is anatomically possible,’ she drawled. ‘But I do have to commend you on your masterful use of the expletive infixation - wouldn’t you say, Darcy, that Miss Bennet has quite a way with the expletive infixation?’

Anne looked aside while she spoke, and there, to Elizabeth’s utter horror, stood Mr Darcy, disturbingly clean-shaven, a set of rakish curls atop a very disgruntled expression. He did not say a word.

The relief that Fitzwilliam felt at seeing that Elizabeth Bennet, whatever had caused her to curse loudly so early in the morning, was apparently unharmed, was very quickly replaced. The situation was of the very sort in which he did not wish to be. There was Elizabeth, the focal point of all his rambling thoughts in the last days, sat in her bed, wearing nothing but a white nightgown (he had never seen her in anything but black!), curls hanging softly about her face, and apart from the look of horrified confusion, she was utterly - delectable.

Fitzwilliam Darcy had never used this word before, and he did not intend to do so ever again. How embarrassing to be thusly in the clutches of base emotion! He shook his head, trying to think of something he could say that would impress the notion upon everyone assembled that he knew how to behave professionally and with integrity, but there was nothing. Elizabeth had stopped cursing but was still sitting in bed motionless as colour was slowly creeping into her cheeks. He could do nothing else but look at her - how was it that she was so utterly enchanting - what was wrong with him?

Finally, he was aware of Caroline standing by his side, clad in some sort of peach-coloured tent, her feet bare.

‘Do stop gawking!’ she huffed. ‘You look like fish, the lot of you - what is going on?’

‘Miss Bennet has been demonstrating a very creative use of the expletive infixation,’ Anne said lazily, examining her fingernails.

‘And the point of all that was?’ Caroline asked, glaring directly at Elizabeth.

Fitzwilliam, once he had made sense of Caroline’s ungrammatical construction, realised he had not yet discovered the answer to that question either.

At last, Elizabeth spoke.

‘Lydia,’ she panted. ‘I forgot about Lydia. Where was Lydia?’

The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter XI

Mari A.June 04, 2020 01:10PM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter XI

UlrikeJune 06, 2020 07:50AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter XI

Ariadne not logged inJune 06, 2020 05:30AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter XI

NN SJune 05, 2020 11:46AM

Re: The Education of a Chaperon - Chapter XI

Mari A.June 05, 2020 02:58PM


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