A very Jane Austen Christmas story; Part Fourteen

A Very Jane Austen Christmas
(almost coming to a close)
Cousin Imogene, the velvet horse that is, galloped on Jane’s bedside table all through the night. She had been given a draft for pain which served to secure her deep sleep, but it also sent her into a realm of wild, unsettled, frustrating and confused dreaming. In her dream she met the witchy mantua maker at the Red Devil tavern. They shared a glass of the doctor’s powdered draft and talked over the merits of becoming the prince regent’s mistress. The potato man arrived and plopped an enormous jacket potato in front of each of them, topped with violet candies. Jane unwrapped her candy paper and read, ‘La vie est un beau rêve, mais ne vous réveillez pas’--‘Life is a beautiful dream, just don’t wake up’. Holding the paper, she looked up and found it wasn’t the witchy woman sitting opposite her—it was the doctor. ‘I’m sorry, Miss Austen,’ he frowned, picking the candies off her potato, and popping them under his walrus moustache, ‘Your ankle has worsened unexpectedly. I’m afraid you aren’t going to make it’. ‘Make it for Christmas?’ Jane asked for clarity. ‘Make it to Christmas’ he said, and the church bells began to toll a dark, doomsday sound rather than their usual golden peel.
Jane sprang up in bed and a wave of pain knocked her back down.
“Please don’t move so quickly, Miss Austen,” Mr. Godwin said, standing over her.
Jane rubbed her face, trying to innocuously pinch her cheeks a little. “I must look a sight.”
“Oh, I assure you, you do. But perhaps not in the way that you mean. Moreover, how do you feel”?
“I feel like I’ve been drawn and quartered. Whatever the doctor gave me was certainly potent.”
“You were talking in your sleep, you know,” Mr. Godwin smiled.
Jane’s blush was genuine. “What on earth did I say? Dare I ask”?
“You mumbled something in French that I couldn’t make out, and then I believe you asked for a potato. Would you like a potato”?
“Yes, please, sprinkled with violet candies.”
Mr. Godwin cocked his head to one side. “Was that the French part then, the candy papers”?
“Yes…. ‘Life is a beautiful dream, just don’t wake up.”
“From the bottom of my heart, if you’d slept much longer, I might have called the doctor back”.
“Dear me,” Sally said, rushing in, “I thought I heard your voices. I will run water for your bath, Miss Austen.” She draped Jane’s bathing gown on the foot of the bed. It was a simple, plain-looking thing but Mr. Godwin seemed fascinated by it.
“Shall I leave”? he asked Sally.
“Oh, no, Mr. Godwin. It will be some time yet before the water is ready. And I might need your help getting Miss Austen in if you can spare the time.”
“I don’t need to be back to Parliament until evening.”
“Were you at work already then?” Jane asked.
“Indeed. The clock just struck three. I believe the chiming is what woke you. And by the way, Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” Jane said, confusion returning with a thimbleful of sadness. Has my mother been notified of my situation?”
“Yes, Miss,” Susan nodded, “I posted the letter myself this morning.”
“Is my aunt in?”
Susan explained that her aunt had been out all day walking the street they had discovered the night before in hopes of encountering Imogene.
“I dearly hope she does,” Jane said, clasping her hands together to express her ardent wish and her anticipation. Soon Jane was dressing in privacy, albeit with some difficulty, for she wobbled terribly. The long spell of sleep and the aftermath of the doctor’s dosing left her unsteady.
When Mr. Godwin was called back in, he had already removed his jacket and rolled his sleeves up. He lifted Jane off the edge of the bed and deposited her as gently into the warm water, as if she were made of glass. Jane ruminated as she soaked in the perfumed tub. Would Aunt Phoebe catch sight of Cousin Imogene? Would her own mother receive the letter this day and be in possession of Jane’s excuses? Would she herself be able to escape from the tub with Susan’s help? Jane was thoroughly soaked and her bathing gown now as transparent as a carriage window. She spotted a hickory walking stick leaning up against the mantle. Jane rose from the zinc tub and lunged for the stick. Deftly, she tottered to the tiled portion of the large floor and gripped the washstand. She stared down at the sink’s transfer pattern of small brown flowers and tried to summon more strength. It took what seemed hours to dry off and dress, alternating between a seated position on the edge of the tub, and a hopping posture as she completed her toilette in the mirror. By the time Susan popped her head back in, Jane was tucked back in bed, her hair loose and damp, her skin dewy, smelling of the Indian Medicated Vapor Bath that was left out for her.
“Thunder an’ turf!” Susan shouted when she found Jane abroad from the tub.
Mr. Godwin was the first to stop the stick and gave Jane a scolding shake of the head. “You might well have slipped on the wet floor and broken your other ankle.”
“Yes, I know, Mr. Godwin. But I didn’t. And do you know what else… if I can make my way out of the tub and back into bed the first day after the injury, just imagine what I might be able to accomplish tomorrow. And the next day.”
“I’m beginning to feel a health crisis coming on,” Mr. Godwin said grimly, “What do you have in mind?”
“I was thinking we might pick up our search for Cousin Imogene. Now, hear me out, Mr. Godwin…” Jane sat up as ramrod straight as she could and squared her shoulders. “If I can get around so well as this, navigating all the bits of furniture and the carpets, surely, I can get around the city streets.”
“Shall I call in the doctor to have his opinion?” Mr. Godwin asked.
“I don’t see why we need him to voice his thoughts on the subject; I have just now demonstrated my ability to make my way around. What need we of the doctor and his guesses”?
“Are you healed then,” Mr. Godwin asked ironically.
“Not healed, but fast accruing some practical experience with the use a walking stick. I am both mobile and equipped to clear a path for us.” Jane made a swathing gesture like she was sword fighting.
Mr. Godwin laughed but shook his head, “That is both the most spirited and most foolhardy speech I have heard this year, Jane, and it is nigh upon the last days of December. The choice is really this… shall we return to our part of the country when Mr. Wright and Mr. Atwood depart tomorrow, or would you rather stay on in town for a few days to recover your strength?”
Hmmm. Those are not the two choices Jane was considering, but there it was. Her wings were but a little clipped, but yet she had to admit to herself that she was not fit to strike out on adventures alone. Perhaps she should let go of her addlebrained idea of hobbling through the streets of London in pursuit of Cousin Imogene. Perhaps that was not the soundest course of action. Indeed, she would choose between Mr. Godwin’s sound ideas, but which would it be?
A. Return to Surrey with the men.
B. Stay in town a few more days.