A very Jane Austen Christmas story; Part Ten
A Very Jane Austen Christmas
PART TEN: BUSY NOTHINGS
When Jane finally ended the evening, the visitors had (full of theories and plans) gone home, Aunt Phoebe had (tearfully and wobbly) retired to bed, Susan had (quiet and mousey) set a steaming cocoa on Jane’s side table, and Jane herself was finally alone. She took out her writing notebook and wrote a few paragraphs down. The secret piece she was working on was all about manners and parties, and the city of Bath. There was a girl, travelling with friends of the family, and being brought out to society at city balls where manners and repartee were crucial. Jane thought about the way people really were-- her Aunt Phoeoe was walking a tightrope of emotion between being panicked and being hopeful. Aunt Phoebe had always been eccentric but, with the advent of Imogene’s disappearance, had become an exaggerated caricature of herself. Susan, the maid, was part of the family but not really part of the family. She overheard conversations and brought the right pie, the right aperitif, the right soap, or the right shoes at the right time—but she would not sit down and speak equally. Jane herself was bound by the same rules and manners. She would like to speak more plainly with Mr. Godwin, but decent society would not allow for that. Her pen scribbled wildly long into the night, until her tallow candle flickered out.
Something woke her, far too early. It was her plan! She would retreat her steps to the neighborhood where the girl mistook her for Cousin Imogene. Jane knew her aunt would be sleeping long into the morning, and thus nipped into Susan’s part of the house.
“I am going out for a walk,” Jane told Susan, so no one would further worry upon finding herself gone.
Susan scanned Jane up and down; her hair was done up loosely but acceptably, her attire was neat but not pristine. Despite the early hour and the suspicion that Jane too should still be resting, there was not a thing Susan could bring up definitively to detain her, except nutrition.
“But you have not yet eaten, Miss,” Susan scolded.
Jane grabbed a slice of pound cake and made for the door. The wintery morning was cold and bright. The church bells rang the hour—only seven tolls. The streets were already filled with carriages, carts, and barrows. People walked in haste toward the busy intersections of roads. Jane crossed over into the mysterious network of streets and neighborhoods, passing below the Red Devil like a gateway to a parallel world. Perhaps Cousin Imogene was part of this world. Perhaps Jane might catch sight of her walking with a group of friends… or a beau. Perhaps there might be a clue.
The streets opened up to the fairytale square with the small green rimmed with cottages.
‘Jacket potatoes! Chairs to mend! Dust ahoy!’
The cries of sweeps, fruitmongers, laborers, menders, cleaners, hatters, Cornish pasty carts, girls with baskets over their arms shouting about Chelsea buns, pickled cucumbers, doormats, and umbrellas. There was a man with a basket of lambs for sale. An older woman with a barrow of fish walked alongside a knife grinder chatting and occasionally shouting ‘herring’! Jane searched the sea of faces for Cousin Imogene. Could she be here among them? Jane leaned on a lamppost, listening to the cacophony of noise, like frantic bird calls through the air. ‘What a lot of busy nothings’ Jane thought, ‘Life seems but a succession of busy nothings’.
“Oh! That is quite good,” she said aloud to herself, “I will have to write that down”.
The witchy woman touting her mantles and capes popped up in Jane’s face, disturbing her lyrical thoughts.
“Fancy meeting you here again, m’ dear,” she purred. “Can I help you find your way?”
She was eyeing Jane up and down like a Christmas goose. Realizing the woman had effectively boxed her in around the lamppost with her large basket of capes on one side and her cane on the other, Jane suddenly felt trapped.
“Now then, you do seem to be at a loose end. Always roaming the streets alone, aren’t you? Seems to me you needs someone to protect you, m’ dear. You’ll likely be gobbled up by the wrong sorta man if you’re out here workin’ for yourself. And your beautiful, long hair needs a bit more pinning, don’t it?”
The women dropped her basket and began smoothing Jane’s hair. Jane bridled and violently ducked under her arm. She ran to the corner in haste. Alas, there was Mr. Godwin coming her way… but he had not yet seen her. Was he taking a detour on his way to work? Would he be displeased to find her alone, wandering the streets? He had made it plain that he meant to aid her in the search for Cousin Imogene. She felt like a traitor, striking out upon her own... but she had not been discovered yet. There was yet time to elude him. Oh, but there was the mantua woman was catching up to her on the other side. There was still time to run, but should she?
What will Jane do?
A. Blow by the witchy woman and hide until Mr. Godwin passes.
B. Seek refuge in Mr. Godwin and face the consequences.