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Jane Austen’s Reading Salon is the board where we freely showcase our writing: short stories, excerpts, deleted scenes, poetry, and other assorted samples, both Austenesque and beyond Austen’s world. This is a “read-only” board. Read to your heart’s content and check back periodically for new posts.A A A
February 10, 2017
The tapping, clicking, snapping, and ratcheting sounds as Jacques finished packing the Wardrobe served as a background for the last stages of Lizzy and Maggie’s conversation. Elizabeth quickly understood that she could not return to Longbourn before she had traveled to France to meet with Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam.
Comfortably resolved to that outcome, especially since the Wardrobe was now securely enclosed and locked away in its crate, Lizzy asked Maggie how they were to deal with her sudden appearance at Matlock House.
Maggie replied, “I will have you know, Miss Elizabeth, that I abhor deceit of any kind. However, I do believe that we must be prepared to answer questions. And given the gravity of the situation, I fear that we will have to be prepared to concoct a tale, to give you a legend of sorts.
“Maxie and Tommy cannot know anything about what you have just accomplished. I think you would do best to just say that you are a distant relation of Lady Fitzwilliam and have been living well away from London your entire life. Your parents just arrived in London, and, having previously discussed this with the Matlocks, left you to spend some time at Deauville while they toured Scotland. The boys are quite used to visitors and family appearing from and disappearing to places all over the world.”
Lizzy furrowed her brow and then asked, “And what about the Earl and Countess? I know that I am to tell them exactly what I told you, but how do I address them?”
By this point having comprehended the dimension of the conundrum presented by the child, Maggie narrowed her green eyes and thought for a moment before responding.
“I think it you could call them Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry. They are the most likeable people, and I think you will find Lady Kate quite to your taste.”
Jacques dispatched Sean Wilson to the General Post Office to send a telegram to France. He had worded it cryptically, but clearly enough to explain the lay of the land.
Young visitor from Meryton appeared in study/Miss EB and rest of party arrive on Persephone tomorrow evening.
No sooner had the servant’s entrance slammed shut behind the man’s broad shoulders than Liam Wilson/Sir Percivale was tasked with corralling two filthy and rambunctious boys who had stormed the House’s front portico lugging their rucks and blanket bundles. Wilson had well imagined what the refugees might look like as the footman had attended the Matlocks when they had met with Lord and Lady Baden-Powell to invite Maxie and Tommy to attend his Lordship’s camp for boys.
Baden-Powell’s common theme was that he believed that boys could be turned into men through fending for themselves and building leadership skills in the company of others their age. He also asserted that class divisions would be broken down through the natural comradeship inspired by common experiences and hardships. And he emphasized that while cleanliness was important, these were boys and a certain amount of dirt was a necessary and healthy lubricant for the young male of the species.
Wilson chuckled to himself as he caught a whiff of each boy as he flew by.
Madame Robard will not be amused that young Lord Thomas, let alone her own son, Monsieur Maxie, smells like well-aged cheese. I would wager she will burn their clothes while both are soaking at in hot tubs.
The door to the study exploded open as the boys raced in to greet their favorites called by one maman et papa and by the other as Aunt and Uncle.
And skidded to a halt at the sight of an unfamiliar presence—a girl!
Each young fellow’s countenance, arms and legs bore the marks of dozens of ancient and fresh insect bites, the souvenirs of eight days spent in the sand wastes of Brownsea Island. The wounds had rendered their faces—which had brought a look of horror to Maggie’s, a small smile to Lizzy’s, and had caused a coughing fit to contort Jacques’—to something akin to that of a measles’ victim. They instantly doffed their khaki canvas hats in a concession to the civilization soon to impose itself upon them. This, unfortunately, released Maxie’s shock of red hair and Tom’s coarse black from protective custody. Eight days of campfire smoke, salt water, and bushwhacking was instantly released to scent the study’s atmosphere.
In spite of their slightly ridiculous appearance, they instantly assumed a dignity that was rooted in the understanding that this was their patch, their portion. Perhaps they were recalling the campfire stories B-P had told into the twilight, tales written down by his great friend Mr. Kipling. As boys were wont to do until they are told otherwise, their innate grandiosity allowed them to assume kingship over all they could see, touch, smell, or hear. This brown-haired interloper, of an age with them, had to be poked, prodded, and smelled to determine her place in the hierarchy of this corner of the jungle.
As the senior male, Maxie realized that while Akela—Lord Henry—was away in France with Raksha—Lady Kate—he must play Bagheera to Tommy’s Mowgli, to protect him as he learned the ways of the world. Perhaps this young lady, for so she appeared to be rather than a shop girl, might become part of the pack as Leela.[i]
Maxim, of course, knew that his best friend Tommy as Viscount Gladney was due to succeed to the Earldom in the unimaginable distant future and that all that was Matlock would be counted as his property. But, the Franco-English progeny was sufficiently imbued with his father’s ingrained French Republicanism and his mother’s strident Labor leanings to instantly reject suggestions that young Tom Fitzwilliam was any better than the son of Madame and Monsieur Robard. Besides, had not his patrol elected him leader for the week? And, Maxie also knew that Aunt Kate and Uncle Henry would instantly quell any airs put on by their heir.
With the young people eyeing each other warily, Maggie speedily introduced Elizabeth as a Bennet niece of some stripe. Neither boy was particularly curious about Miss Bennet’s non-existent genealogy, simply accepting Maggie’s story without question. They made schoolroom bows in response to the girl’s curtsey.
Then, Madame Robard took command and exercised authority, both her own and that of the Matlocks as in loco parentis.
“Boys…Elizabeth…we have much to do before travel to Deauville tomorrow morning.
“Monsieur Robard, I must ask you to please get these two heathens properly bathed so that they may be suitable company. I want their hair washed twice, if not three times.
“You must condescend to smell it to see if it is clean, Monsieur Robard. We cannot allow Lady Kate to find cause to wrinkle her nose at either her son or ours, Monsieur Robard.
“Then, dab each of those bites with calamine…stop scratching, Tommy…and make sure the lotion dries before the boys are dressed in loose fitting linen.
“Miss Bennet and I must be off now to Harrods to do a bit of shopping for odds and ends that she did not pack when she left home.”
Elizabeth had the grace not to bridle at the inference that she had actually packed anything before traveling to London. The boys and Jacques had ignored anything after the word “shopping.”
Maggie now moved on, “I want everybody packed and ready to travel by teatime. That means the Wardrobe needs to be moved down to Victoria Station yet this morning and loaded into the baggage compartment of Evening Mist.[ii] That will be for the Wilsons, I imagine.
“As for you three children, I think you will find it exciting to eat in Mist as we travel to Southampton. I am certain Cook has planned a wonderful pudding to top off our dinner.”
Saving the best for last, Maggie slyly added, “And you will all be able to sleep snugly tonight on board Persephone before we make our Channel crossing tomorrow!”
[i] Lord Baden-Powell, B-P to succeeding generations of scouts and scouters, used Kipling’s Jungle Book as part of the founding mythology underlying the aims of the Scouting program. Akela, leader of the pack, Raksha, his queen, Mowgli, the boy, Bagheera, the black panther mentor of Mowgli, and Leela, the granddaughter of Akela are all characters in the Mowgli stories.
[ii] The Matlock private car which was, in this case, attached to a special train ordered by the Earl.
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