A very Jane Austen Christmas story; Part Four
A Very Jane Austen Christmas continues:
PART FOUR: Blustering and Bowing
Just as a bear and a wolf were about to close in on Jane, her eyes flew open. But she was floating, the world was moving around her. The wet was relentless. Was she drowning? No. She was being carried. A worried looking young man, just as soaked as she was, was carrying her up the steps of the farmhouse. Glancing down at Jane, he smiled broadly, but still retaining his look of worry.
“My trunk….” Jane weakly whispered.
“I saw it. Not to worry. Soon as I have… deposited you… I will return… retrieve it.”
The sleet was intensifying and even in Jane’s diminished state she could see that her savior was commanding his strength to transport her in a speedy manner. Within a few steps he reached the door and knocked by kicking it with his boot. When no one immediately came he kicked some more, rather savagely. Another young man with the very same face opened the door. Jane thought she must still be dreaming, in double.
“What in blasted blazes!” the second man boomed. “You’ve got hold of a soggy Blowsabella?”
Jane was conscious enough to clock this as an insult.
“Move out of the way, Rod! You can see I’m having some difficulty!”
“Mother!” Roderick shouted, “Ewan has brought us a Christmas present!”
“Oh, shut up, Ewan barked, depositing Jane on a chaise. “I must hurry back for her trunk”.
“Blowsabella comes with a trunk?” Roderick laughed, “She’s like a doll from the toy shop”.
Ewan ignored his brother’s remarks. “Go around to the front and recover the gig before Gypsy runs away down the lane.” Not giving his brother time to protest, he retreated out the open door in search of Jane’s trunk. Roderick disappeared, apparently en route to Gypsy and the gig.
Jane felt a surge of warmth and realized someone was pulling a woolen blanket right up to her earrings. A young lady was perched beside her, now untying her bonnet. Backlit in firelight, the figure positively glowed. Her long fingers worked dexterously to liberate the bonnet, then she began unfastening the frogs on Jane’s pelisse.
“Don’t move too much yet. I know you must be terribly confused. I’m Mr. Godwin’s wife. Please call me ‘Daphne’… when you feel equal to talking.”
An older woman’s face appeared on Daphne’s shoulder, giving her the appearance of a hydra. “Oh, Mrs. Goodwin!” Daphne started. “This poor girl was caught in the storm and Ewan has brought her inside.”
“She’s soaked to the bone!” The older woman exclaimed.
Mr. Ewan Roderick was just then reentering with Jane’s trunk in his arms. “Safe and sound!” he announced, bowing to Jane’s reclined figure.
As Daphne unbuckled Jane’s pattens the elder Mrs. Goodwin ran to the trunk. “We must find something dry for the poor creature to change into.”
The trunk was flung open and a snake’s nest of balled up clothing and underclothing spilled onto the hearth rug. The two Mrs. Godwin’s exchanged blushing looks and the trunk lid was quickly replaced. Mr. Ewan Godwin coughed, bowed again, and asked how Jane was feeling. Jane’s thoughts and her person were too waterlogged and troubled to worry about customary manners and underwear. She sat up with some difficulty as Daphne protested and shook her head. It rained all over the chaise.
“I’m awfully sorry,” she began, to a chorus of friendly, assuring voices. “I was on my way to London and the carriage driver upset my trunk and when I went to the rear or the coach to right it, he forgot me and drove on. I was left in the lane when it started snowing and had monstrous difficulty trying to drag my trunk nearer your house. It is the only house in sight, and I do beg that you will pardon the intrusion.”
“My dear!” the elder Mrs. Godwin cut in. “You are most welcome here. It is never an intrusion to have company in this house.”
Just then Roderick Godwin reappeared, soaking wet, and exclaiming, “What the blasted deuce is happening here?”
“Rod!” Ewan replied hotly, “The poor girl is at sixes and sevens. Mightn’t you spare us the bad form for but a moment!”
Roderick mightn’t. The blustering bad form continued. But once it was ascertained the Gypsy was stalled, the buggy was secured, and a guest room was assigned to Jane, the atmosphere softened. Being sensible and stout Jane protested very little about the accommodation and the plan as it stood. Although she felt she might recover her fortitude momentarily, the weather was worsening. Her possessions were in a state of wet uselessness, and the day’s light was already snuffed by the gathering storm.
Upstairs, Daphne laid out a night dress and a dressing gown for Jane. “Please pardon my husband’s mood,” she blushed. “I’m afraid he had been making himself rather too merry this afternoon, if you understand my meaning.”
“Tis the season,” Jane smiled, and Daphne relaxed. Jane had assumed Ewan Godwin was husband to Daphne, and her heart made a small flutter upon learning she was wrong. “I pray you will find this clothing comfortable and warm.” Jane had already pulled on the lovely silk dress. “Would you like a dry chemisette” Daphne asked?
“No, thank you. I think this dressing will cover me admirably while mine dries”. The dressing gown was made of soft velvet, the color of an evergreen, and wrapped Jane as warmly as any bedcovers. She was feeling fit although rather foggy. “Are the two Mr. Rodericks brothers?” she asked.
“Twin brothers,” Daphne smiled, fitting slippers onto Jane’s feet, “Although they could not be more dissimilar in temperament. Roderick blusters while Ewan….” Daphne was searching for the right word.
“Bows?” Jane supplied.
“Precisely,” Dahne laughed. “His is of a more gallant temperament. Although I assure you my husband’s manners can be fine when he is in the right mood.”
“I do not doubt it,” Jane assured as they descended the stairs to the sitting room. The elder Mrs. Godwin was seated at her work, several low chairs of exceedingly plush upholstery, and a table with small sandwiches were set before the fire. A small, spotted dog looked up from the hem of Mrs. Godwin’s dress until Daphne seated herself and the little dog, like a turncoat, transferred its affection to Daphne. Jane had not realized how weak and hungry she felt. Had she remained on the carriage, it would have already made a stop at a convenient inn for luncheon. Rather than descending upon the table of sandwiches like a buzzard at an open grave Jane rounded the back of the Elder Mrs. Godwin’s chair and studied her work. Mrs. Godwin held a needle thread with golden silk and was stitching the words ‘Happy Christmastide’ on a most charming sampler.
“Do you think I might finish it in time, my dear”, Mrs. Godwin asked?
“I feel certain you will,” Jane promised, leaning neared the sampler. It was a merry scene with a cheerful farmhouse, quite like the house she was within, framed with ribbons at the corners. Decorated topiaries stood outside the doorstep and two girls flanked the house, one wearing red, the other in green. A row of garlanded and ornamented trees completed the bottom row, giving the overall look one of great holiday cheer. “I admire it very much,” said Jane.
Daphne, feeding a sandwich to the dog, as though it were a small child added, “I feel certain you are an admirable needlewoman yourself, judging from the holly berry trim on your fichu.” Jane pictured her fichu, and the entire contents of her trunk drying on an oaken rack in front of the fire in her designated room. A feeling of warmth, relaxation, and belonging almost overpowered her. “Would you like a frame of linen?” Daphne asked. “I have plenty of woolens and needles to spare.”
“I would like that very much,” she nodded, “But first I would like to write a letter to my mother. She is expecting me to arrive in London tonight and will be worried if my correspondence is delayed”. Daphne set a pen, papers, and a plate of sandwiches in front of the chair nearest the fire, signaling Jane to settle down. Jane picked up the pen but instead of writing found herself happily chatting, eating sandwiches, and telling the Mrs. Goodwin’s about the mystery of her cousin, Imogene.
Unbeknownst to Jane, Mr. Ewan Goodwin was standing in the doorway. She knew not for how long he had been standing there until he said, “I leave for London the day after tomorrow. It would be most agreeable to have the pleasure of your company.”
Jane blushed, for several reasons. The first was the compliment of Mr. Godwin’s offer. The second was the idea of riding alone with a man. Jane was not a prude or a very young lady, but society demanded certain rules. Her inclination was to wait for the morrow and take the public conveyance as it passed. However, what if it were full again, and she was made to wait? What if the same driver took the route and abused her such again? What if personages like Mr. Stench and Mr. Wolf were again aboard? Was there much harm in riding in a private gig? Was there? What should she do?
“I am not riding alone,” he added, as though reading her thoughts. “I am picking up Mr. Wright and Mr. Atwell four miles up the road in Barkhamstead. We would be alone but three quarters of an hour.”
Did the comparatively short junket to the next village make it any less scandalous? Jane wondered. Whatever should she decide?
A. Wait for the public carriage
B. Accept Mr. Godwin’s offer of a ride